Samambaia (Polypodium leucotomos) infographic

Samambaia Summary:

Samambaia is a fern found growing throughout the Amazon rainforest, as well as other tropical and subtropical parts of South, and Central America, as well as the Caribbean.

Samambaia has the ability to regulate and support the growth of various cells in the body including the skin and brain.

It's most commonly used in traditional medical systems to treat skin disorders and upper respiratory infections (especially those with a cough), however, newer research has discovered an even more useful ability. That is to protect the brain cells from damage.

It's able to support and stimulate the repair of these damaged cells, which is a significant finding in regards to the ever increasing development of Alzheimer's and dementia in modern society. Samambaia may prove to be one of the most important herbs in the coming years for this reason, as more research is done to understand how it's able to produce these effects, and how we can use it effectively to treat and prevent this highly debilitating and ultimately deadly disease process.

Other uses for samambaia includes treatment for vitiligo, kidney disease, cleansing the blood, an addition to detox formulations, improving and modulating the immune system, arthritis, skin disorders, and cancer.

One of its most interesting uses is as a natural sunscreen, both used topically, as well as when taken internally.


Herbal Actions:

  • Alterative
  • Analgesic
  • Antiaging
  • Antielastase
  • Anticancer
  • Anti Inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-psoriasis
  • Antirheumatic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Antitussive
  • Antiulcer
  • Anti-UV
  • Diaphoretic
  • Diuretic
  • Expectorant
  • Hypotensive
  • Immunomodulator
  • Natural sunscreen
  • Neuroprotective
  • NF-kB Inhibitor
  • Protects skin cells
  • TNF-Inhibitor

Botanical Name:

Polypodium decumanum

Polypodium leucotomos

Polypodium aureum


Family Name:

Polypodiaceae

 

Parts Used:

Rhizome, aerial parts

samambaia fern polypodium spp

Dosage

Leaf/Rhizome

Infusion (1:20)

125-750 ml/day

Tincture (1:5)

3-6 ml/day

Tablets

1-2 g/day

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Indications:

  • Psoriasis
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Colds/Flus
  • Other skin conditions
  • Cancer
  • Eczema
  • Dermatosis
  • Anti-aging formulas
  • Coughs
  • Tendonitis
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Alzheimer's and dementia
  • Vitiligo
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Crohns
    • Iritable bowel syndrome
  • Lowered immune systems

Common Names:

  • Samambaia
  • Calaguala
  • Anapsos
  • Huayuashishupa
  • Cotochupa
  • Mirane
  • Temakaje
  • Cabbage palm Fern

Traditional Use:

Indigenous cultures of Honduras used this plant to treat malignant tumors, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis [3].

In the amazon rainforest, indigenous cultures such as the Boras Indians, Witotos Indians, and other indigenous populations use either the rhizome or the leaves for coughs, pancreas disorders, kidney disorders, fevers, cancer, psoriasis, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, arthritis, as a general tonic, blood cleanser, to detox the body, and to improve or support the immune system [3].

In Honduras, common uses of this fern includes tumors, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

In brazil it is commonly used for its blood cleansing (alterative), sweat promoting (diaphoretic), and tonic and expectorant qualities [3]. Here it is widely used for coughs, bronchitis, cold and flu, other upper respiratory tract infections, rheumatism, skin disorders such as dermatitis and psoriasis. [3].

In Peru, the rhizome is commonly used for coughs, fevers, urinary tract infections, as well as such skin conditions as boils, abscesses, psoriasis, and ulcers [3].

In general, ferns are used medicinally across the globe as a tonic, blood cleanser, and expectorant. There are however a few exceptions, but generally speaking most ferns are used in a similar way. They are commonly used to treat respiratory disorders, and skin disorders. [3]. These two body systems interestingly are often regarded as intimately connected by many traditional medical systems.


Botanical Description:

Samambaia is a fern that can be found growing in the Amazon rainforest, as well as throughout the drier tropical forests of Central and South America.

The family Polypodiaceae contains roughly 75% of all ferns, which includes over 6000 species of plants (6000 polypodys or 6000 total ferns?) [3].

In the Polypodium genus, there are roughly 75 species, of which many are used as medicine by various indigenous populations [3]. Poly means “many” in latin, and podus means :foot. This is in regard to the many “foot-like” divisions of the rhizome that is characteristic of this genus.

Samambaia has an intricate, creeping root system. This creeping rhizome, as well as the fronds are what is used medicinally [3]. It is a medium-large fern that is easy to cultivate in medium light, and moist, to semi-dry soil.

The sori is arranged in 3-7 rows between the midriband margin of the leaf segment.

This herb generally has two main common names, In brazil the herb is referred to as Samambaia, but throughout most of Latin America it is called Calaguala instead [3].


Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:

The polypodiaceae family of ferns is mainly found in the tropics all over the world [3], but the species referred to in this monograph are mainly found in the central, and south american tropics, and the Caribbean.

Polypodium leucotomos (also known as Polypodium aureum), and Polypodium decumanum are both indigenous to the Honduran rainforests but have spread throughout the South American, Central American, and Caribbean tropics [3].


Harvesting, Collection, and Preparation:

Still compiling research. 


Constituents:

Samambaia, as with other medicinal herbs, contains a wide range of chemicals. Some of the main chemicals include flavonoids, alkaloids, and lipids [3].

The lipid content of Samambaia is quite rich, and contains fatty acids, and a group of lipids referred to as sulphoquinovosyldiacylglcerols, which are the subject of multiple patents and are attributed to many of Samambaias medicinal actions. [3].

The main compounds found in Samambaia includes adenosine, alkaloids, arachidonic acid, arabinopyranosides, calagualine, ecdysone, ecdysterone, eicosapentaenoic acid, elaidic acid, juglanin, kaempferols, linoleic acid, linoleic acids, linolenic acids, melilotoside, oleic acid, polypodaureine, ricinoleic acid, rutin, selligueain, and sulphoquinovosyldiacylglycerols [3].


Pharmacology and Medical Research:

 

Anti-Alzheimers

Patients in Europe taking the herbal extract “Anapsos” for psoriasis, who also had Alzheimer's noted a noticeable improvement in this condition, which led researchers to begin studying Samambaias beneficial effects against this debilitating disease. Since then Samambaia has been shown to be effective in protecting the brain cells from degeneration, and promotes the repair of damaged brain cells. Samambaia has been found to improve the blood supply to the brain, improve cognitive performance, and increase electrical impulses in the brain in patients with senile dementia and alzheimer's at just 360 mg per day. The results were noted to be much more significant in patients with early, or mild dementia than in those with severe dementia. Anopsis is now also used to treat Alzheimer's and dementia in various European countries [3].

 

Anticancer

Some of the same actions that are useful in treating and preventing psoriasis are also found to be useful in preventing or treating cancer. This includes samambaias actions on inhibiting NF-kappaB and TNF alpha. [3]. This is a normal part of the inflammatory response but can lead to cell damage if chronic, long term stress is present. This factor (NF-kB) is suggested to be an ideal target for anticancer treatment because of a few key factors:

  1. Its activation blocks apoptosis, and promotes proliferation [10, 11] which are both negative influences on the treatment of cancer.
  2. In the precence in tumor cells NF-kB actually induces further proliferation [12, 13]
  3. The hypoxic conditions present in the tumor can signal NF-kB activation [14].
  4. NF-kB can induce a resistance to chemotherapeutic agents [15,16].
  5. NF-kBregulates several genes involved in tumor initiation [17, 18].

It is because of all of these factors that NF-kB has become a key concept of research for future cancer therapies. Samambaia leaf extract (calagualine) has been found in several studies to posess potent NF-kB inhibiting properties in multiple cell lines [19]. A leaf extract of samambaia which included calagualine was reported to protect against peripheral blood lymphocyte proliferation [5].

NF-kB is a normal part of the stress response. This response will return to normal after the damage has been repaired, but in chronic long term inflammation and stress, significant negative side effects can persist.

The samambaia extract was also shown to block tumor formation in the skin of albino mice after exposure to UVB [43]. This action has been sugegsted to be due to Samambaias ability to reduce reactive oxygen species formation such as inhibiting the formation of COX-2 induced by ultraviolet radiation, which is involved in carcinogenesis [44-47].  aSamabaia has also been shown to inducing the activation of tumor supressor p53 [43].

 

Antinflammatory

Leaf extracts from Samambaia has been found to inhibit inflammatory cytokines [6], and NF-kB [19].

Samambaia leaf also inhibits the formation of reactive oxygen intermediates, blocks lipid peroxidation, and regulates superoxide dismutase [7,8], which leads to an inhibition of the inflammatory response.

 

Anti psoriasis

Psoriasis is a type of inflammatory dermatosis characterized by red, itchy, scaly patches of skin. This condition has been found to be regulated mainly by NF-kB which is a protein transcription factor that causes cell proliferation  and differentiation. Psoriasis is marked by an increase in phosphorylated NF-kB [48].

Samambaia leaf extracts have been found to inhibit NF-kB [19].

Some of the actions of Samambaia against psoriasis are suggested to be due to the ability of samambaia to decrease skin overgrowth and skin thickening. Through this suggested action samambaia is able to reduce the severity, and extent of the skin lesions associated with psoriasis [3]. Samambaia has known benefits on other skin pigmentation dysfunctions such as vitiligo and malasma [38-41], through various other protective effects on skin cells.

Its use as an alterative may prove a separate mechanism of action in a similar way to sarsaparilla (smilax spp.), more research is needed however.

A prescription drug from spain is made from the water extract of Samambaia rhizome, is commonly used to treat psoriasis. It is named “Anapsos” [3]. It has been shown to be effective for both psoriasis, and vitiligo [3].

 

Antiviral

Extracts from samambaia have been shown to possess antiviral effects against herpes virus type 1 in an older study [9].

 

Immunomodulating

In a study investigating the effects of Samambaia extract on high intensity exercise induced immunosuppression, found that samambaia (Amaya fuerte) extract was able to decrease the incidence of infectious disease contraction and duration in athletes [ Previous studies have shown that samambaia extract can increase both T lymphocyte, and Natural Killer cell populations [20], as well as offers modulation in various adhesion model expressions which indicates its possible use as an immunomodulator for both immunocompromised, and autoimmune conditions [21-24].

Some of samambaias effects on immune function are suggested to be through protection of the skin against UV damage. UV radiation induces skin immunosupression through the loss of skin dendritic cells (Langerhans cells), which are crucial mediators of the immune response in the skin [42].

 

AIDS Treatment

Still compiling research.

Starting point based off Samambaias known effects agains dengue virus [9] as well as traditional usage for this purpose. Samambaia also has significant effects on the immune system. 

 

UV Protection

Samambaia has been shown to produce a protective effect on the skin from sunburn and other skin damage when taken internally or applied topically to the skin [27, 28]. Some of this protective action from UV radiation is understandably from antioxidant compounds found in the plant [3], while other chemicals have been discovered to offer photoprotective effects through other mechanisms as well. One mechanism of action is through the improved structural integrity of the extracellular matrix that is typacally affected by UV damage. This improvement occurs due to an increased matrix metalloproteinase expression, as well as an inhibition of collagensynthesis. [29, 30]. These effects on photoprotection are noted to be more significant in photosensitive individuals [31-33].

Another compound, calagualine has been shown to prevent acute sunburn and psoralen induced phototoxic reactions [1], and photoaging of the skin [2].

The main chemicals contained in Samambaia that have been found to posess antioxidant and photoprotective effects includes p-coumaric, ferulic, caffeic, vanillic, 3,4-dihydroxybenzoic, 4-hydroxybenzoic, 4-hydroxycinnamic, 4-hydroxycinnamoyl-quinic, and chlorogenic acids [25, 26].

 

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is an aquired and chronic loss of pigmentation of the skin. There are 2 main types of vitiligo, generalized and segmental. Generalized vitiligo is a form of vitiligo is characterized by white, and often symetrical patches that generally increase over time. This form of vitiligo generally occurs with an increasing and substantial loss of functioning epidermal melanocytes [34]. Segmental vitiligo is characterized by unilateral white patches in the skin associated with a dermotome.

The Cause of vitiligo remains unkown, but genetic factors, autoimmune disorders, cytotoxic effects, and neural injury are considered causitive factors [35, 36]. Because of the appearence of vitiligo, especially on darker skinned individuals, psychological factors are a significant associated condition with this disorder, and may lead to depression, and anxiety [37]. Therefore it is important to find effective treatments to reduce the occurence and severity of this non-life threatening disease.

The normal treatment for vitiligo involve the use of psorleans, and ultroviolet A light which cause the skin to redden, and results in a darker pigmentation following. Side effects of this treatment includes severe sunburns, blistering, and abnormally dark pigmentations. A more modern treatment using narrowband UVB therapy is now available which doesn not require the use of psorlens and has been suggested to be successful in up to 75% of patients with this condition but required multiple sessions a week for a year or more [38]. Polypodium leucotomos was found to be effective as an adjunct therapy alongside both of these modern treatments, significally improving the effectiveness of these current treatment [39, 40].

Melasma, another pigment related disorder found most commonly in pregnant females, and women on hormone replacement therapy, is characterized by dark patches of skin around the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip. It is often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy” due to its association with pregnancy. A study investigating the effects of an oral samambaia extract taken twice per day for 12 weeks found it was able to significantly decrease the appearance and severity of this condition. 70% of the patients in the placebo control group reported worsened melasma severity compared to 0% in the Samambaia extract group. The species used in this study was Polypodium leucotomos  [41].

Calagualine extract from samambaia has been used to induce vitiligo repigmentation by itself as well [4].


Toxicity and Contraindications:

Samambaia has been tested for toxicity on mice and rats and has been shown to produce no toxicity [3].

In humans, doses exceeding 1000 mg orally have also shown no indication of toxicity [3].

Samambaia has been suggested to enhance the effects of the commonly prescribed heart drug digitalis, and as such care should be used if taking heart medications [3].

Samambaia is suggested to have reduced absorption when antacids are used [3].


Cautions:

None listed


Energetics:

Still compiling research.

If you have knwoledge of traditional medical systems such as traditional chinese medicine, ayurveda, or traditional south american or North Amerindian systems. Please contact The Sunlight Experiment Here.


Synergy:

Still Compiling Research


Author:

Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

Updated: March 2017


Recent Blog Posts:

References:

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  2. M.V. Alcaraz, M.A. Pathak, F. Rius, N. Kollias, S. Gonzalez, An extract of Polypodium leucotomos appears to minimize certain photoaging changes in a hairless albino mouse animal model. A pilot study, Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photo- med. 15 (1999) 120 – 126.
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