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Spilanthol in Spilanthes – How It Works

Spilanthol In Spilanthes – How It Works

Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article

Toothache plant (Spilanthes acmella, AKA Acmella oleracea) has a compound called spilanthol. It hosts a number of properties which, when combined, prove to be invaluable to dental issues. Among them are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and analgesic properties. More needs to be known about how spilanthol works but scientists speculate that it works with bioflavonoids to inhibit of prostaglandins which allow the brain to perceive pain. Other compounds such as tannins interact with the flavonoids to break up colonies of bacteria in the mouth.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Like many plants, spilanthes has evolved a complex system of compounds that have multiple functions. The alkamide, spilanthol is elemental in regulating growth in different parts of toothache plant. It is just as reactive in the human body when consumed. It stimulates the production of nitiric oxide and reduces  the production of proinflammatory mediators. Spilanthol targets the cannabinoid type 2 receptors in our brains that signal responses to stress. It reduces inflammation by moderating our neurons and reducing stimulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. According to recent studies, most of the stress and inflammatory management occurs in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Spilanthol as Topical Medication

Spilanthes is most famous for its topical applications. Spilanthol has a light molecular weight with 2 hydrogen adapters and 1 hydrogen donor atom. This makes it very easy for this compound to cross the skin/tissue, mucosa, and blood/brain barrier. Once it has transferred below the surface, it can do its work. Spilanthol kicks in quickly as a topical anesthetic. N-Alkylamides such as spilanthol are noted for their numbing properties. Other plants with topical anesthetic herbs rife with n-alkylamides include prickly ash and echinacea. Herbalists blend herbs from all 3 of these plant genera to ease the pain of wounds and inflammation.

Spilanthol has an added bonus of serving as an antibiotic. Thus far, studies have supported the claims that spilanthes is an effective broad spectrum antibiotic. The list of Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria that are deflected by this herb is lengthy. The most common bacterial offenders  Bacillus subtilisEscherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae were deterred at concentrations of the spilanthol alkamide as low as 25 μg/ml.  Spilanthes also increases saliva in the mouth when taken orally which decreases the viability of bacterial cultures that attack tooth enamel.

Contraindications for Spilanthes

Spilanthes is generally considered safe for use. There is some concern that it may make regular consumers of alcoholic beverages more sensitive to ethanol if you are taking spilanthes in medicinal doses. There is not enough evidence available at the time of publishing this post to prove that spilanthes is hazardous if used medicinally if you are pregnant or nursing.

Further Research

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – Spilanthes acmella

NCBI – Acmella oleracea and Achyrocline satureioides as Sources of Natural Products in Topical Wound Care.

My BioHack – Spilanthes

Science Direct: Spilanthol: occurrence, extraction, chemistry and biological activities

Sue Sierralupe

Sue Sierralupé is a Certified Master Herbalist, Master Gardener and Sustainable Landscape Specialist. She is the clinic manager and lead herbalist at Occupy Medical clinic. Sue is author of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and co-author of The Practical Herbalist Herbal Folios series. Follow her blog at Herbalism Manifesto for commentary on herbs, parenting, nutrition and a whole lot more.


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