Witch Hazel and Herpes

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Witch Hazel and Herpes

Reference: Erdelmeier CAJ, Cinatl J, Rabenau H, et al. Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark. Planta Medica 1996; 62: 241-45.

Summary: A crude hydroalcoholic extract from the herb witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) was subject to ultrafiltration (UF). Ultrafiltration is a membrane separation technique in which the components are separated according to the size of the molecule. Using TLC, HPLC, and acid hydrolysis, the UF concentrate was shown to primarily consist of oligomeric and polymeric proanthocyanidins. This particular UF fraction was then combined with HSV-1 in vitro and found to exhibit a significant antiviral effect. This concentrate also exhibited strong free-radical scavenging and antiphlogistic actions. The lower molecular fractions consisting of hamamelitannins, catechins, and other unknown constituents possessed far weaker antiviral and antiphlogistic activities.

Comments/Opinions: The incidence of infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) steadily increases with age, reaching an infectivity of 80% to 90% among those greater than 50 years of age. However, only 20% to 40% of those exposed to the virus will experience oral outbreaks of the lesions.(1) This includes such commonly observed symptoms as the pain, burning and itching at the infected site, with subsequent erythema, papules, vesicles, ulcers, and eventual crusting over a ten day period. While the incidences of outbreaks can vary from months to years, the results can be psychologically and cosmetically debilitating. As such many individuals have resorted to using acyclovir prophylactically to prevent such complications. However, given the recent discovery of acyclovir-resistant HSV-1 strains the search for alternative strategies is a worthwhile one.

Although topical Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root) and Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) are widely recommended medicinal plants for the treatment of oral HSV-1, witch hazel bark may represent another option. While many believe that the tannins in witch hazel are responsible for its antiviral effects, the in-vitro work by Dr. Erdelmeier and colleagues suggests that the proanthocyanidin content in the plant is far more effective against HSV-1. They note that a specially prepared extract of witch hazel, high in proanthocyanidin content and lower in tannins, might provide us with a pharmacological bonanza -- the beneficial effects of topically applied tannins in inflammation and wound healing plus the anti-HSV-1 action of proanthocyanidins. As this is only an invitro study, well-controlled clinical trials utilizing such an extract in humans seem strongly warranted.

(1) Spruance, SL. Herpes simplex labialis. In: Sacks SL, Straus SE, Whitley RJ, Griffiths PD, eds. Clinical Management of Herpes Viruses. Oxford: IOS Press, 1995: 3-42.

Natural Product Research Consultants, Inc.

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By R. Reichert

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