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Application of Red Periwinkle
Scientific Name: Catharanthus roseus
Other Names: Cape Periwinkle, Catharanthus, Church Flower, Madagascar Periwinkle, Red Periwinkle, Rosy Periwinkle
Who is this for?
NOTE: Catharanthus roseus is not recommended for oral use due to the possibility of serious side effects.
Catharanthus roseus should not be confused with Vinca minor, another plant that is commonly called periwinkle.
Traditionally, Catharanthus roseus has been used in folk medicine to treat diabetes and high blood pressure. As an antidiabetic remedy, it was believed to promote insulin production or to increase the body's utilization of sugars from food. A few studies of injectable and oral Catharanthus roseus in laboratory animals have shown some antidiabetic effects, but no human studies have found significant reductions in blood sugar after Catharanthus roseus was taken by mouth. Catharanthus roseus has some diuretic action, meaning that it may promote the loss of urine from the body. This effect may help to relieve high blood pressure, but other diuretics are both safer and more effective to use. The high risk of serious side effects from Catharanthus roseus makes taking it inadvisable.
During the 1950s however, Catharanthus roseus was discovered to contain a number of chemicals in the alkaloid class. Alkaloids are bitter-tasting plant compounds that contain nitrogen. Many of them have pain-relieving or anticancer properties. At least two of the alkaloids in Catharanthus roseus (vinblastine and vincristine) have been isolated and developed into prescription anti-cancer drugs. These injectable drugs and their derivatives (such as vinorelbine) work in several ways that interfere with the division of cancer cells. Recently, a laboratory study showed that chemicals in Catharanthus roseus may also prevent the growth of new blood vessels that support tumor growth. These drugs should only be used by healthcare professionals; however, because they may cause severe side effects.
When should I be careful taking it?
Catharanthus roseus should not be self-administered due to the probability that it will cause serious side effects.
What side effects should I watch for?
Poisoning and deaths have occurred among animals that have ingested large amounts of Catharanthus roseus plants.
Although no cases of birth defects attributed to Catharanthus roseus have been reported, birth defects have been caused by using prescription drugs derived from Catharanthus roseus during pregnancy.
Neurotoxicity, nerve damage that may become permanent, has been seen frequently in individuals who take a prescription form of Catharanthus roseus to treat cancer. Symptoms of neurotoxicity may include muscle weakness or a burning, itching, or tingling sensation in the hands or feet.
Catharanthus roseus alkaloids may decrease the ability of bone marrow to produce new blood cells.
What interactions should I watch for?
Catharanthus roseus is not known to interact with prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, other herbal supplements, or foods. However, because few reliable studies of Catharanthus roseus have been conducted, its possible interactions with drugs, foods, and other dietary supplements are not understood completely.
Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.
Should I take it?
A bushy perennial, Catharanthus roseus may be native to the islands of the West Indies or to Madagascar, a large island located off the southeastern coast of Africa. Historical records show that it was well-established in Europe during the 18th century primarily as an ornamental flowering hedge. Because it is such an attractive plant, Catharanthus roseus is still often used as a decorative bush in gardens and landscaping. In warm climates, it generally grows to between 24 and 30 inches in height and it consists of a thick, trunk-like stem with many upright branches. Its small, dark, shiny leaves stay green all year in the tropics and its 5-petaled flowers range in color from white through many shades of pink and lavender to red. In cool climates, Catharanthus roseus usually stays smaller and loses its leaves in the fall. Catharanthus roseus fruits, which are about an inch long, produce multiple tiny seeds.
Catharanthus roseus now grows wild only in Madagascar, where it is endangered by the spread of agriculture and metropolitan areas. Because it provides the anticancer alkaloids vinblastine and vincristine, Catharanthus roseus is cultivated on plantations in tropical countries. It may even be grown under artificial conditions, such as in bioreactors, which are systems used to produce large amounts of natural materials in shorter times than growing the plants would take. The whole Catharanthus roseus plant, including the roots, may be used in medicine. In India, the juice of fresh Catharanthus roseus leaves has been applied topically to treat venomous insect bites. In the West Indies, its flowers were used in eye preparations. In various parts of the world, a solution made from the whole plant has been used to control bleeding and as a mouthwash to ease sore throats. However, using Catharanthus roseus in any form is strongly discouraged due to the side effects that it is likely to cause.
Dosage and Administration
All of the prescription versions of Catharanthus roseus are formulated to be given by intravenous injection.
Taking Catharanthus roseus orally is discouraged and injecting it should always be supervised closely by a trained healthcare provider. The side effects of Catharanthus roseus make its use dangerous.
Currently, the use of Catharanthus roseus is not recommended due to the risk of severe side effects from taking it. Chemicals derived from it are used in prescription-only anticancer drugs.
Using Catharanthus roseus may lead to severe side effects, so it is not recommended.
Catharanthus roseus and the drugs derived from it have been associated with causing:
Taking it may also cause gastrointestinal complaints, headache, and muscle weakness.
While no interactions have been associated with Catharanthus roseus, it has not been well studied. Potential interactions may not be known, yet.
Last Revised June 2, 2004
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(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)