Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Avocado for iron deficiency?

On the 2nd of July, exactly 20 days before my PhD Viva, Zansali from Uganda posted this question left on the avocado leaves tea post from January 2011 you can access it here. His question was:

"In Uganda, my country (East Africa), some herbalists advise to boil 5 to 8 avocado leaves and take that for 3 to 4 days, when one is anaemic. It is believed [that] exceeding 4 days could be catastrophic. What is your opinion on their prescription?"

Well my friend, before anything let me apologise for the time it took me to post a reply to your query. My Viva was on the way and I had to prepare myself for it the best way possible.

Now, specifically on your question I must say that every time I reply to a toxicology related question I base myself on scientific articles and never on a theoretical or empirical belief system like many herbalists attempt. The answer I got for you is supported by scientific data on articles that I could find published in available science libraries on the web.

Immediately, one of the aspects that comes to my mind is the content of iron in the avocado fruit (6%), but bear in mind we are talking about fruit, not leaves. The leaves of the Persea Americana 'version' of the avocado fruit (see image above), when infused, are mentioned by many authors as having medicinal properties. Another important aspect is that the sources of this folklore knowledge are well widespread through the globe, from Africa to Mexico, there is plenty of old records of tribes and herbalists using avocado for medicinal purposes:

a) the stems when boiled alongside 'one' seed produces an infusion that is suggested to treat anaemia [1];

b) for stimulating menstrual flow [2];

c) for treating stomach and menstrual cramps [1];

d) as an anticonvulsant, as is typical of the Lauraceae [3];

e) for treating or preventing cancer as mentioned previously in the original post.

However, two books [4] [5] talk about some products of the avocado plant that have been successfully  used in counteracting anaemia. I personally have no access to these books but if they provide this information it would be useful for someone like you to purchase it and learn a bit more about the subject. Nevertheless, when searching the web, what the American School of Natural Health advises in regards to avocado therapeutics for iron deficiency is that one should eat a minimum of three avocados per week for a minimum period of two weeks [6]. This practice is even suggested for those who do not cope very well with iron tablets (like my wife who had serious indigestion problems and nausea due to ferric sulphate tablets). The action is supposedly by an indirect pathway where certain nutrients in the avocado will increase iron absorption in the body.

Specifically addressing your concerns is very hard due to the limited literature on that precise topic, but what the toxicology data suggests in regards to the avocado plant is that, in its pure form, the toxic principle of avocado, persin, can result in mastitis in lactating mice models at 60-100 mg/Kg [7] whereas dosages over 100 mg/Kg can result in myocardial necrosis. Below there is more data on the toxicology of the avocado fruit and parts collected from [7].

(click to enhance)

In fact, most of the literature I could find at reach out there provides information suggested by herbalists and popular folklore, therefore any application of said science is to be decided on a personal level and with lots of common sense (whenever possible with the support of a nutritionist). But with the above info on the toxicology of the avocado plan, one has already a principle for guidance in what concerns the preparation of any infusion of avocado plant leaves for tackling anaemia.

[1] Alfaro, M. A. M. (1984). "Medicinal plants used in a Totonac community of the Sierra Norte de Puebla: Tuzamapan de Galeana, Puebla, Mexico". Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 11, pp. 203-221.

[2] Sussmann, L. K. (1980). "Herbal Medicine on Mauritius". Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2, pp. 259-278.

[3] Ojewole, J. A. O. and Amabeoku, G. J. (2006). "Anticonvulsant effect of Persea americana Mill (Lauraceae) (Avocado) leaves aqueous extract in mice". Phytotherapy, 20, pp. 696-700.

[4] Ross, I. A. (2003). "Medicinal Plants of the world, Volume 1: Chemical constituents, Traditional and Modern medicinal uses".

[5] Watt, J. M. Brandwijk, B. and Gerdina, M. (1986). "The medicinal and poisonous plants of Southern Africa and Eastern Africa: being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal", 2nd edition, Published by University Microfilms International.  

[6] Avocados for Iron Deficiency?, American school for natural health, [], last visited on the 3rd of August 2016, last update unknown.

[7] Avocado: Food hazards, The Merck Veterinary Manual,, last visited on the 3rd of August 2016, last updated on May 2013.

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