What You Need to Know About Shepherd's Purse

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects of Capsella bursa-pastoris

shepherd's purse
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Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is a flowering plant found in the mustard family. Native to parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, it's often used in herbal medicine. Proponents suggest that taking shepherd's purse in dietary supplement form can stop heavy bleeding and hemorrhaging, as well as treat a variety of health conditions.

Shepherd's purse contains fumaric acid and sulforaphane, which are substances that have been shown to offer antioxidant effects in scientific studies.

Benefits of Shepherd's Purse

Several studies published in the 1960s and 1970s indicated that shepherd's purse might reduce inflammation, protect against ulcers, and slow the growth of tumors. However, there is a lack of more recent research on shepherd's purse and its potential health benefits.

Uses for Shepherd's Purse

In alternative medicine, shepherd's purse is typically used as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

Also, shepherd's purse is said to stimulate circulation and increase the flow of urine. When applied directly to the skin, it's used to promote healing from wounds and burns and to treat eczema.

Caveats

Shepherd's purse is known to cause some side effects, such as changes in blood pressure and/or thyroid function, drowsiness, and heart palpitations.

Since so few studies have tested the health effects of shepherd's purse, the safety of long-term use of dietary supplements containing shepherd's purse is unknown.

Shepherd's purse should not be used as a first aid treatment for bleeding or as a substitute for conventional care.

There's also some concern that shepherd's purse may promote the formation of kidney stones, as well as interfere with the treatment of heart conditions and thyroid conditions.

Additionally, shepherd's purse may alter the function of the central nervous system, and therefore should be avoided for at least two weeks before undergoing surgery.

Because shepherd's purse may trigger contractions in the uterus or induce menstruation, pregnant women should also avoid the use of this herb.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety, and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Alternatives to Shepherd's Purse

Some herbal remedies are said to help treat heavy menstrual bleeding (a condition known as menorrhagia). These remedies include ginger, dong quai, and blue cohosh.

Although research on the menorrhagia-fighting effects of such herbs is limited, there's some evidence that use of vitex may decrease the number of heavy bleeding days in women with menorrhagia.

For help in soothing the pain associated with menstruation or premenstrual syndrome, several substances may serve as an alternative to shepherd's purse. For instance, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids (a type of fat found naturally in flaxseed and fish oil) may help ease menstrual cramps, possibly by reducing inflammation.

What's more, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2007 found that herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine may be more effective than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral contraceptives, acupuncture, or hot water bottles in relieving menstrual cramps. The report was based on a review of 39 previously published studies, most of which used a combination of five or more herbs (such as dong quai, lovage, red peony, and white peony).

Acupressure, stress management techniques, and dietary changes (such as reduced intake of salt, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine) may also help to alleviate menstrual pain.

Where to Find It

Many natural-foods stores sell dietary supplements containing shepherd's purse. You can also purchase shepherd's purse in stores specializing in herbal products, as well as online.

Using Shepherd's Purse for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend shepherd's purse as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources

Jurisson SM. "Flavonoid substances of Capsella Bursa pastoris (L.) medic." Farmatsiya. 1973 Sep-Oct;22(5):34-5.

Kuroda K, Akao M, Kanisawa M, Miyaki K. "Inhibitory effect of Capsella bursa-pastoris extract on growth of Ehrlich solid tumor in mice." Cancer Res. 1976 Jun;36(6):1900-3.

Kuroda K, Takagi K. "Studies on capsella bursa pastoris. II. Diuretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer action of ethanol extracts of the herb." Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther. 1969 Apr;178(2):392-9.

Zhu X, Proctor M, Bensoussan A, Wu E, Smith CA. Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD005288. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005288.pub3. 

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