Can South American Herbs Help Treat Autoimmune Disease?

These Herbs May Help Hashimoto's Disease, Graves' Disease and More

Camu Camu
Lew Robertson/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Anthropologist and herbal expert Viana Muller, PhD, has been involved in research, growing, harvesting, collecting, propagation and distribution of certified organic and wildcrafted South American medicinal herbs. Here, she shares some thoughts about South American herbs and autoimmune disease.

Mary Shomon: Some practitioners theorize that autoimmune diseases can be triggered by:

  • Food sensitivities and uncontrolled allergies, in particular, to milk and gluten products
  • Viral exposures, such as Epstein Barr virus or HHV6 or Coxsackie
  • Bacterial infections such as foodborne yersinia
  • Mycoplasma infection

While we have courses of action for allergies and sensitivites and bacterial infections, preventing or treating many of the viruses implicated in autoimmune disease is less clear-cut. Are there South American herbs that can help bolster immune defenses and perhaps prevent viral infections such as Epstein Barr virus or HHV6 or Coxsackie -- or help treat viruses once one has been exposed and perhaps has a chronic infection or viral syndrome?

Dr. Viana Muller: A high quality camu-camu fruit powder grown wild in South American rainforests has produced spectacular results with all types of herpes viruses, including Epstein Barr and Herpes Zoster (shingles). I have seen it work much faster than Acyclovir, the standard anti-herpes medication and better than L-lysine--the most common holistic treatment.

I've also seen camu-camu drastically reduce the rate of outbreaks of genital herpes outbreaks--from once every six weeks to once in eight months.

Another herb which grows deep in the rainforest which has proved to be very effective for managing chronic hepatitis C is a climbing vine whose botanical name is Desmodium adscendens (sometimes called amor seco or Strong Back herb).

People with liver pain from this condition have found relief in 24 hours and over a period of 60-90 days their elevated liver enzyme levels drop dramatically. But it doesn't actually kill the hepatitis virus--it works on liver repair.

The herb which has shown in animal studies to kill the hepatitis virus is called "Chanca Piedra" or Break-Stone. It looks like a small fern and grows in swampy areas of the rainforest.

Mary Shomon: Do you feel there are any South American herbal remedies that can help bolster the immune system or prevent autoimmune disease?

Dr. Viana Muller: The four most effective South American botanicals that I know to bolster the immune system--and help prevent autoimmune disease or reverse it--are: the camu-camu fruit, maca root, cat's claw bark, and graviola. It is crucial for consumers to realize that just because the bottle has the name of one of these botanicals on the label, it doesn't mean that what is inside the bottle will be effective for them. For example, there are many companies that use a small amount of camu-camu fruit--with no guaranteed natural Vitamin C percentage, derived from the camu-camu fruit itself, in their product.

This type of product is virtually worthless. You want a product that has a guaranteed 8% natural Vitamin C/bioflavonoid level.

(Note from Mary: You can get a high-vitamin-C camu-camu from Whole World Botanicals that is considered 20 times more potent than Ester C.)

Mary Shomon: Is there any evidence for use of South American herbal remedies for treatment of autoimmune diseases? (lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid diseases) and other conditions?

Dr. Viana Muller: There is strong anecdotal evidence for the use of maca to strengthen the immune system and I've personally seen some remarkable turn arounds with various autoimmune illness. A 43 year old woman with severe asthma since the age of 18 is able to go off of her daily asthma medication (6 pills a day) after one two weeks of taking one teaspoon of organic maca extract powder per day.

A 68 year old man with Parkinson's Disease who is no longer able to walk regains his strength and muscle control to the point that he can walk again and his muscle tremors are less severe.

A 42 year old woman who has had severe eczema since she was a teenager--especially on her face--whose face cleared up in 2 or 3 weeks using 1 tsp of organic maca extract powder per day. After two months, she gets occasional small outbreaks--especially if she is under stress--but it goes away very quickly.

Scores of women with hypothyroidism who take 3 to 6 caps a day of organic maca extract a day who are either able to reduce their dosage of Synthroid, Unithroid, or Armour, or whose symptoms are much improved in the following areas while maintaining the same dose of their thyroid medication: increased energy, more regular menstrual periods, less bleeding and less pain with the monthly cycle; increased hair and nail growth.

Mary Shomon: Some autoimmune disease treatment involve use of fairly strong drugs, such as methotrexate, or Remicade, or strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. What are your thoughts about how South American herbs might help complement their conventional treatments and minimize the negative side effects of strong drug treatments?

Dr. Viana Muller: Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has strong anti-inflammatory properties and has been used as adjuvant therapy for helping to offset the side effects such as nausea felt by many undergoing chemotherapy. It is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, but otherwise is quite safe.

Mary Shomon: Food sensitivities have been implicated as triggers in a number of autoimmune diseases. From a practical standpoint, are there any role for South American herbs in helping someone with an autoimmune disease deal with food allergies and sensitivities?

Dr. Viana Muller: Leaky gut syndrome has been helped by Cat's Claw Extract (boiled bark or alcohol based extract).

Camu-Camu has also proven helpful for getting rid of headaches brought on by food allergies, including sugar!

Viana Muller, PhD, is co-founder and President of Whole World Botanicals, a company that is involved in research, growing, harvesting, collecting, propagation and distribution of certified organic and wildcrafted South American medicinal herbs. As an anthropologist, Dr. Muller has been making rainforest herb collecting/study trips to the Amazon River Basin since 1989.

To contact Dr. Muller, or get certified organic and wildcrafted South American medicinal herbs, contact:

Whole World Botanicals
PO Box 322074 Ft. Wash. Station
New York NY 10032