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Comfrey: Health Benefits, Side Effects, Prevention And Drug Interaction

Comfrey is a perennial herb native to Asia, Europe, North America, and Western Siberia. The scientific name of the plant is 'Symphytum officinale' and it is commonly known as bruisewort, slippery root, and blackwort. The petals of comfrey flower come in violet or violet-white hue and hang downwards like a small bell in a spiral-shaped stem. They are aromatic and contain high protein.

Comfrey is used in herbal medicines from 2000 due to the presence of allantoin, rosmarinic acid, mucilage and tannins that have high anti-inflammatory and healing property. Every part of the flower is used in curing ailments like swelling, burns, sprains, etc and in treating inflammatory disorders like gout, ulcers and arthritis. It is also known to have antifungal, antioxidant, and vasoprotective effects [1] .

Apart from being a medicinal herb, comfrey is also known to enrich the soil, fertilize it, and help in growing crops better. This low maintenance and highly beneficial herb happily grow in a lush alongside the forest edge [2] .

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Health Benefits Of Comfrey

Comfrey is used by many pharmaceutical companies as the main ingredient in making ointments, creams, and salves for conditions like joint pain, wounds, and muscle pain. Some of the health benefits of comfrey include the following:

1. Healing wounds: According to research published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Confrey has wound-healing powers which help in curing abrasion wounds [3] .

2. Reduces back pain: Evidence from the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that comfrey cream can help in treating acute upper and lower back pain within 5 days [4] .

3. Treats joint pain: A study published in the Phytomedicine (2007) says that comfrey ointment is very effective in treating osteoarthritis [5] and ankle sprains.

4. Treats ankle sprain: According to a study published in Phytomedicine (2005), comfrey has an anti-inflammation property that helps in reducing ankle sprains and other related pains [1] .

Comfrey extract is also effective in treating disorders mentioned below but there's insufficient evidence for these disorders. The disorders are as follows:

  • Menorrhagia, heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Blood in the urine
  • Chest pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cough
  • Fractures
  • Gout
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Sore throat and bronchitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Risks Associated With Comfrey

Comfrey leaves were used as a vegetable and were used to prepare tea from their roots and leaves to treat stomach-related problems like ulcers and diarrhoea. Nowadays, eating comfrey leaves directly by mouth are not suggested as it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, a toxic chemical that can result in severe liver damage, cancer and can even cause the death of a person. Oral comfrey products are currently banned by the FDA [6] .

Side Effects Of Comfrey

Exposure to high amount of comfrey causes certain side effects like the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Liver enlargement [7]
  • Low urine output
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Veno-occlusive disease [8]
  • Prevention
  • Certain precautionary measures while taking comfrey are as follows:
  • Never take comfrey directly by mouth [9] .
  • Don't use comfrey on broken skin [1] .
  • Don't use comfrey extract in large amounts for the skin for more than 6 days.
  • Avoid during pregnancy or breastfeeding [10] .
  • Avoid using it if you have liver disease [11] .
  • Older people and children should avoid it.

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Comfrey Drug Interaction

Comfrey interacts with certain medications and causes harm to the body. It is suggested to consult a doctor or a pharmacist before starting comfrey extract and ask them about the possible drug interactions. However, it does not cause serious interactions with many drugs; it can cause mild to moderate interactions with drugs like rifampin, phenytoin, carbamazepine, and rifabutin [9] .

View Article References
  1. [1] Staiger C. (2012). Comfrey: a clinical overview. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 26(10), 1441–1448. doi:10.1002/ptr.4612
  2. [2] Cheng, C. C., Chou, C. Y., Chang, Y. C., Wang, H. W., Wen, C. C., & Chen, Y. H. (2014). Protective Role of Comfrey Leave Extracts on UV-induced Zebrafish Fin Damage. Journal of toxicologic pathology, 27(2), 115–121. doi:10.1293/tox.2013-0053
  3. [3] Araujo, L. U., Reis, P. G., Barbosa, L. C. O., Grabe-Guimarães, A., Mosqueira, V. C. F., Carneiro, C. M., & Silva-Barcellos, N. M. (2012). In vivo wound healing effects of Symphytum officinale L. leaves extract in different topical formulations. Die Pharmazie-An International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 67(4), 355-360.
  4. [4] Giannetti, B. M., Staiger, C., Bulitta, M., & Predel, H. G. (2010). Efficacy and safety of comfrey root extract ointment in the treatment of acute upper or lower back pain: results of a double-blind, randomised, placebo controlled, multicentre trial. British journal of sports medicine, 44(9), 637-641.
  5. [5] Smith, D. B., & Jacobson, B. H. (2011). Effect of a blend of comfrey root extract (Symphytum officinale L.) and tannic acid creams in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multiclinical trials. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 10(3), 147–156. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2011.01.003
  6. [6] Trifan, A., Opitz, S. E., Josuran, R., Grubelnik, A., Esslinger, N., Peter, S., ... & Wolfram, E. (2018). Is comfrey root more than toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids? Salvianolic acids among antioxidant polyphenols in comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) roots. Food and chemical toxicology, 112, 178-187.
  7. [7] Stickel, F., & Seitz, H. K. (2000). The efficacy and safety of comfrey. Public Health Nutrition, 3(4a), 501-508.
  8. [8] Yeong, M. L., Swinburn, B., Kennedy, M., & Nicholson, G. (1990). Hepatic veno‐occlusive disease associated with comfrey ingestion. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 5(2), 211-214.
  9. [9] Mei, N., Guo, L., Fu, P. P., Fuscoe, J. C., Luan, Y., & Chen, T. (2010). Metabolism, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity of comfrey. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part B, Critical reviews, 13(7-8), 509–526. doi:10.1080/10937404.2010.509013
  10. [10] Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Comfrey. [Updated 2018 Dec 3].
  11. [11] Gomes, M. F., de Oliveira Massoco, C., Xavier, J. G., & Bonamin, L. V. (2010). Comfrey (Symphytum Officinale. l.) and Experimental Hepatic Carcinogenesis: A Short-term Carcinogenesis Model Study. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 7(2), 197–202. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem172

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