Medical journals have reported that the use of the herb chaparral has been linked to cases of hepatitis. The chaparral issue started a while back when out of the clear blue there were 13 cases of hepatitis reported in a two year period in people taking chaparral supplements. There are several unanswered questions though as to the validity of this claim.
For instance, chaparral has been in use for thousands of years and is still widely used from Mexico to South America to cure various diseases such as cancer. Yet there have only been 13 isolated cases of hepatitis reported in a two year period.
Furthermore, up to recently the chaparral extract nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) was widely used in the food industry for its powerful antioxidant properties. It was added to foods to prevent oils in the foods from becoming rancid.
NDGA is also the active component that inhibits the cellular division of cancer cells and destroys pathogens such as many viruses.
Despite decades of use as a food ingredient there were never any cases of hepatitis reported. And the FDA never explained why there were only 13 isolated cases supposedly from chaparral in this two year period with no cases reported before, nor since.
By the way, contrary to popular belief, chaparral was never banned from the market. The FDA called for a voluntary moratorium since they could not legally ban the herb. The FDA can only ban an herb if they can prove that the herb shows an unreasonable risk to safety, which the FDA could never do with chaparral. When stores did not comply with their “voluntary moratorium” though, the FDA would harass stores that they found openly selling chaparral despite their actions being a violation of the law. The reason that the FDA was never able to prove an unreasonable danger was because the FDA left out some very important facts about these 13 patients. These included the facts that many of these patients were taking pharmaceutical drugs well known for causing liver damage. Other patients were reported to have preexisting liver failure, BEFORE they started taking the chaparral.
Another fact they left out is the stability of the alkaloids in the plant. Chaparral does contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) when fresh. Some PAs are harmful to the liver, though they are also relatively unstable. As an example, both fresh comfrey and dried comfrey have been tested on rats to test for liver toxicity. What was determined was that only the fresh comfrey caused hepatitis in the rats but not the dried comfrey since the PAs are readily destroyed by oxidation when dried. The same was found in cattle feeds that contained plants with PAs. Studies showed the PAs were destroyed in about 20 to 30 days of curing the hay rendering the hay safe.
This brings up another point. Some herbs have to be processed in a certain way to make them safe and useful. For instance rehmannia is Chinese foxglove root that is boiled in 9 changes of water to render it safe. Jack in the Pulpit root has to be aged for two years to prevent caustic burns. Some anthraquinone laxative herbs must be aged for several years before they can be used. The point here is that an herb should not be considered dangerous just because it is not prepared right since the herb can be safe if properly prepared. Chaparral should not be used fresh. Instead, it should be dried and aged a few months to make sure all the PAs are destroyed before use.