Sarsaparilla - Health Benefits
Sarsaparilla: an herb for health
Sarsaparilla (also spelled sarsparilla or sasparilla) is a root that most of us in the US commonly associate with root beer. (In the UK, Fitzpatrick's, the last temperance bar, stopped selling its sarsaparilla cordial in 2003).
Sarsaparilla's reputation as a health tonic goes far back into history, since its importation from Mexico to Europe in the 16th century. Sarsaparilla was used during the US Civil War for syphilis and even listed for such in the US Pharmacopeia (remember, Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin wasn't until many decades later).
Medicinal uses of sarsaparilla
Sarsaparilla products were promoted as blood purifiers, tonics, diuretics, sweat inducers, and for many other applications and was often used in patent medicines. With claims implying it contains testosterone, sarsaparilla has been used as a male sexual rejuvenator and an anabolic steroid replacement in natural body-building formulas.
These are sarsaparilla's reputed health benefits. Are they legitimate? It's a mixed story...
Sarsaparilla & testosterone
Verdict: Very doubtful.
Sarsaparilla, among a number of edible plants, contains chemical compounds called saponins (sarsapogenin and smilagenin) and plant sterols. Some of these can be used to synthesize estrogen and testosterone--in the laboratory. This sort of chemical transformation has never been proven to occur within the human body. It has also never been proved to have any anabolic (muscle-building) activity.
Sarsaparilla & psoriasis
The New England Journal of Medicine published a controlled study in 1942 showing that an saponin extract of sarsaparilla was effective in reducing psoriasis symptoms: 62% of the 92 subjects studied showed significant improvement in their symptoms, while 18% demonstrated complete removal of their psoriasis symptoms. Scientists believe that this is due to the fact that:
1) psoriasis symptoms arise from high levels of enteric (digestive system) endotoxins in the bloodstream
2) sarsaparilla saponins help clear such endotoxins from the bloodstream, by binding to them and allowing them to be eliminated from the digestive tract