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Sunday, 19 August, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Herbal 'heartburn' treatment
The treatment is derived from the herb wormwood
The treatment is derived from the herb wormwood
Doctors may have come up with a herbal treatment for the condition which causes heartburn.

The treatment is derived from wormwood, or Artemesia asiatica.

In reflux oesophagitis, acid from the stomach is pushed up into the oesophagus - or throat.

It usually occurs because of a faulty muscle at the base of the throat.

It is not yet possible to agree with the authors' conclusion that Artemisia or other antioxidants should be used as supplementary treatment in human reflux oesophagitis

David Rampton,
If untreated, reflux oesophagitis can lead to a more serious condition, which can in turn mean sufferers are more at risk of oesophageal cancer.

But the researchers, from Korea, say damage from free radicals - highly reactive molecules - could be more important.

And they say experiments with rats have shown wormwood, which has antioxidant properties successfully treats reflux oesophagitis.

Antioxidants limit damage by removing oxygen free radicals.

But a UK expert said the Korean findings needed to be replicated in humans before people started taking wormwood for the condition.

Tests on rats

The team, from the Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Korea surgically induced reflux oesophagitis in 60 rats.

Fifteen were given no treatment, 15 were given ranitidine a common acid suppressant (antisecretory) drug , and the others were given either 30mg or 100mg per kg of the herbal extract.

The doctors looked for ulceration and, or healing in the rats 36 hours after surgery.

Those who had had no treatment had the most damage, with 80% showing signs of ulceration.

Two thirds of the rats which had been given the acid suppressant also showed signs of ulceration.

But the rats which were treated with the antioxidant appeared to have less severe blistering, lower levels of inflammation and more extensive healing.

The "wormwood" rats also appeared to have more chemicals that protect cells from damage and fewer of the harmful chemicals produced by free radicals.

Writing in the journal Gut, the researchers said: "The combination of antioxidant and antisecretory medications is the treatment of choice in the prevention and treatment of reflux oesophagitis."


Dr David Rampton, a consultant gastroenterologist at Barts and the London hospital, and has carried out research into both herbal and antioxidant therapies, particularly in relation to bowel disorders.

He told BBC News Online he was cautious of the Korean teams findings: "Rats are not people, and the mechanism by which reflux was caused in these experiments was quite different from those thought to be important in humans.

"The results cannot therefore be extrapolated directly to treatment of the human disease."

He added that the exact chemical make up of the herbal extract and its effects on the gullet were unclear, and that the anti-acid drug used was one of the least effective available to doctors.

Dr Rampton said: "It is not yet possible to agree with the authors' conclusion that Artemisia or other antioxidants should be used as supplementary treatment in human reflux oesophagitis."

He called for controlled trials, and warned even "natural" products could have side effects.

A spokeswoman for the Digestive Disorders Foundation said it was important any potential treatment for reflux oesophagitis was examined.

See also:

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