The Health Benefits of Belladonna

Belladonna or deadly nightshade

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Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) is an herb in the nightshade family that is believed to have medicinal properties. Also known as deadly nightshade, the leaves and roots of the plant are said to offer sedative effects. Its berries, however, are poisonous.

Belladonna is used in homeopathy and other alternative medicine traditions as a remedy for asthma, sciatica, hemorrhoids, and pain. Compounds of the herb are also used in pharmaceutical medicine to treat irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

Native to Europe, North Africa, and Southern Asia, belladonna was used as a poison dating back to Ancient Rome, where it was rumored to have killed Emperor Augustus. In Scotland, Macbeth is said to have used it to poison British troops, and it is believed Shakespeare used a belladonna potion to put Juliet to sleep. The herb has also been used as a recreational drug that produces vivid hallucinations and delirium.

In modern medicine, belladonna is widely regarded as unsafe, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, some people use highly diluted belladonna supplements as a sedative, to stop bronchial spasms, to relieve colds and hay fever, to calm colicky babies, to ease motion sickness, and to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Despite these claims, there is little scientific support for the health benefits of belladonna. What's more, belladonna contains chemicals that are known to be toxic to human health.

Health Benefits

There is not enough scientific evidence to rate the effectiveness of belladonna for any health condition, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Due to the toxicity of the herb, the available research on belladonna involves studies on highly diluted homeopathic preparations of belladonna. While some research suggests belladonna offers potential benefits, more studies are needed.

Reduce Inflammation

A 2004 study published in the journal Homeopathy suggests belladonna may help reduce inflammation associated with peritonitis, a condition marked by irritation of the tissue lining the inner wall of the abdomen.

The study examined the effect of homeopathic preparations of Atropa belladonna and Echinacea angustifolia on inflammatory markers in mice with peritonitis and found the treatments reduced inflammation. More researcher, however, is needed.

Wound Repair

A topical preparation of belladonna shows promise for treating wounds, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.

Researchers studied the effects of belladonna on wounds in rats and in cell cultures and found belladonna positively affects early phases of skin wound healing. More studies are needed in humans to confirm these results.

Postoperative Pain Care

Belladonna combined with opium may help to relieve pain following surgeries involving the uterus, prostate, and urinary tracts.

Studies published in the journal Urology and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017 found rectal suppositories of belladonna and opium helped to reduced post-surgical pain. More research is needed before belladonna can be recommended as a treatment for pain.

Possible Side Effects

The safety of belladonna is uncertain. The NIH reports that taking belladonna orally is unsafe, however, research into ultra-molecular homeopathic preparations suggests that highly diluted doses of the belladonna are safe.

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research confirmed homeopathic preparations of belladonna are safe, though its effectiveness for treating any symptom is unclear. In the study, 118 healthy volunteers were given 30CH belladonna or a placebo in a random sequence. At the end of the 8-week trial, researchers found no difference in the health effects of the two treatments.

A 2003 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found similar results. In a double-blind study, researchers gave of 253 healthy volunteers a placebo for one week, then either 30C belladonna or placebo for two weeks. Subjects kept a symptoms journal and completed a questionnaire on symptoms. Researchers found no significant differences between the belladonna group and the placebo group and concluded ultramolecular homeopathy with belladonna had no observable negative effects.

Possible side effects of belladonna include dry mouth, blurred vision, fever, fast heartbeat, inability to urinate or sweat, hallucinations, spasms, mental problems, convulsions, and coma.

Women who are pregnant and people with certain health conditions including congestive heart failure, constipation, glaucoma, and ulcerative colitis should not take belladonna as serious complications may arise.

In addition, the FDA issued a warning in 2010 about homeopathic infant teething tablets and gels that contain belladonna. Serious side effects including seizures, breathing problems, tiredness, constipation, difficulty urinating, and agitation have been reported in infants taking these products. The FDA warning noted that these products may contain inaccurate doses of belladonna.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Belladonna is available in tinctures, herbal preparations, and as highly diluted homeopathic doses at health food stores and online.

There is no standard dose for belladonna. Homeopathic belladonna pellets are typically sold as 30X for children and 30C for adults. X and C denote the potency or dilution rate in homeopathy. X is a 1:10 ratio of dilution and C is a 1:100.

The theory behind homeopathy is somewhat similar to modern-day vaccinations. Introducing diluted substances that cause symptoms in a healthy person is believed to relieve those symptoms in someone who is sick. Homeopathy uses small amounts of a substance that is diluted many times over, then agitated to activate its curative powers.

Common Questions

What is the Belladonna Cure?

Belladonna was briefly used in the treatment of acute alcoholism in the early 20th century. Developed at the Towns Hospital in New York City, the treatment protocol combined belladonna with other herbs and therapies that were given to people who were detoxing from alcohol. Belladonna was given to the patient every hour around the clock for approximately two days, resulting in hallucinations. The most well-known person to cease drinking following the belladonna cure is Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who claims to have had a spiritual awakening under the treatment. The protocol was stopped due to concerns that the treatment was ineffective and potentially poisonous.

A Word From Verywell

Given the safety concerns and lack of scientific support for its use, herbal preparations of belladonna cannot be recommended for any health condition.

If you're considering the use of herbal supplements, talk with your physician first. It's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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