Sutherlandia.Org - An information and links site for Sutherlandia frutescens

Information and links on Sutherlandia frutescens

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Sutherlandia and AIDS Patients - Summary of a field trip in South Africa... more...


Sutherlandia in the news:

- Business Day (RSA)
- NewScientist.Com
- BBC news (UK)
- Independent News (UK)
- The Cape Argus (RSA)
- The Sunday Times (RSA)
- The Daily Dispatch (RSA)
- Remarks by the chairman of
  The House of Traditional

Thesis: The influence of Sutherlandia frutescens on adrenalcytochrome P450 11ß-hydroxylase by Catherine Anne Sergeant

Sutherlandia Safety and Canavanine
by: Dr Nigel Gericke, T.Dr Credo Mutwa, Dr Carl Albrecht and Prof. Ben-Erik van Wyk.

Sutherlandia is a traditional herbal remedy that has enjoyed a long history of safe use. The recorded history dates back to more than 100 years, and the herb has been sold to the public on a small scale for several decades. Not a single report even suggesting adverse effects (apart from mild diarrhoea at large overdose) has ever been recorded.

There has been a recent statement that Sutherlandia is toxic due to the presence of a chemical called canavanine. There is no scientific evidence that long term exposure to the very low amounts of canavanine, found in Sutherlandia frutescens subspecies microphylla, as sold under the brands of Big Tree, can have any adverse effects.

Part of the evidence that has been used against Sutherlandia concerns a historical report of a person who ingested more than a kilogram of alfalfa seeds (alfalfa is also known as lucern, “lusern”, Medicago sativa) in a short period in order to lower blood cholesterol. The person then developed a temporary inhibition of the production of blood cells (a condition known as pancytopaenia, that reversed to normal after the extreme overdose was stopped). It is possible that this condition was caused by the canavanine in the alfalfa seeds, however, the crux of the matter is that the daily dose taken by this person contained 1000 times more canavanine than is found in the daily recommended dose of two 300mg Sutherlandia tablets. At very high concentrations, canavanine therefore may have toxic effects, but toxicity due to overdose is also true for even the most harmless of herbal medicines. Ordinary table salt, taken in large overdose, can cause high blood pressure or even death.

Alfalfa sprouts are widely sold as a health food in all over the world, despite the fact that alfalfa contains more canavanine than Sutherlandia. Even a modest daily portion of alfalfa sprouts would contain substantially more canavanine than the amount present in a recomended daily dose of Sutherlandia. Despite the presence of canavanine in alfalfa, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA) has placed alfalfa in the category of food “generally regarded as safe”, so-called “GRAS” status. If the statement is correct that daily ingestion of small amounts of canavanine is harmful, one would have expected that this would have become evident from the millions of people all over the world eating alfalfa sprouts. Clearly this is not the case.


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