Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Larrea tridentate, Larrea divaricata
Common Name

Creosate bush, greasewood, hediondilla

Clinical Summary

Chaparral is a native American herb that has purported anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. However, a phase II clinical trial showed chaparral to be ineffective as an anticancer agent (9). Numerous reports indicate hepatotoxicity following the use of chaparral (4) (7) (8). Although a small retrospective study indicates that low intake of chaparral tincture (<10%) appears to have no adverse effects (3), correlation between length of exposure and risk is not known.

Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), the principal ingredient in chaparral, was removed from the FDA's “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) list in 1968 (1). Due to case reports involving both reversible and irreversible liver damage, the FDA issued a health warning urging withdrawal of chaparral products in 1992. The use of chaparral as an herbal remedy cannot be recommended.

Chaparral is an ingredient in black salve, which is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment.

Purported Uses
  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment
  • Common cold
  • Inflammation
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Promote urination
  • Spasms
Constituents
  • Amino Acids: Arginine, aspartine, cystine, glutamic acid, glycine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, tyrosine, valine
  • Flavonoids: More than 20 different reported, including isorhamnetin, kaempferol and quercetin and their glycosidic and ether derivatives; gossypetin, herbacetin and their acetate derivatives
  • Lignans: Nordihydroguaiaretic acid, norisoguaiacin, dihydroguaiaretic acid
  • Resins: A number of flavone and flavonol glycosides
  • Volatile Oils: Terpene components include calamene, eudesmol, & limonene
  • Others: Two pentacyclic triterpenes and saponins. A cytotoxic naphthoquinone derivative, larreantin, has been isolated from the roots.
    (1)
Mechanism of Action

Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) a lipoxygenase inhibitor may be responsible for the biological activity of chaparral. It is believed that NDGA may have anticancer activity by blocking cellular respiration in vitro (2). However, later studies found no effect in vivo (3).

Warnings

Chaparral has been associated with severe hepatotoxicity, with some cases requiring liver transplantation (4) (7) (8).

Adverse Reactions

Reported: Fatigue, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatotoxicity (4) (5) (7) (8) (11).

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Newall CA, et al. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.
  2. Cunningham DC, et al. Proliferative responses of normal human mammary and MCF-7 breast cancer cells to linoleic, CLA and eicosanoid synthesis inhibitors in culture. Anticancer Res 1997;17:197-203.
  3. Pavani M, et al. Inhibition of tumoral cell respiration and growth by norhidydroguaiaretic acid. Biochem Pharmacol 1994;48:1935-42.
  4. Sheikh NM, et al. Chaparral-associated hepatotoxicity. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:913-9.
  5. Tyler V, et al. The Honest Herbal. New York: Pharmaceutical Press; 1993.
  6. Heron S, Yarnell E. The safety of low-dose Larrea tridentata (DC) Coville (creosote bush or chaparral): a retrospective clinical study. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:175-85.
  7. Batchelor WB, et al. Chaparral-induced hepatic injury. Am J Gastroenterol 1995;90:831-3.
  8. Gordon DW, et al. Chaparral ingestion. The broadening spectrum of liver injury caused by herbal medications. JAMA 1995;273:489-90.
  9. Smart CR, et al. Clinical experience with nordihydroguaiaretic acid — “Chaparrel tea” in the treatment of cancer. Rocky Mt Med J. 1970 Nov;67(11):39-43.
  10. Gordon DW, et al. Chaparral ingestion. The broadening spectrum of liver injury caused by herbal medications. JAMA 1995;273:489-90.
  11. Kauma H, Koskela R, Mäkisalo H, et al. Toxic acute hepatitis and hepatic fibrosis after consumption of chaparral tablets. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2004 Nov;39(11):1168-71.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Chaparral cannot treat or cure cancer or any other medical condition.

Chaparral is derived from the leaves and twigs of the creosate bush, a native American herb that has been used for inflammation and cancer. It contains biologically active molecules that have been found to block cellular division in laboratory studies. However, when chaparral extracts were tested in living bodies (animal studies), no such effect was found. Because several patients who regularly drank chaparral tea developed kidney cysts, kidney cancer, and liver damage, using chaparral is not worth the risks.

Purported Uses

No scientific evidence supports the use of chaparral for any of the following uses:

  • To treat arthritis
  • To treat bronchitis and the common cold
  • To prevent and treat cancer
  • To reduce inflammation
  • To alleviate menstrual cramps
  • To promote urination
  • To stop muscle spasms
Patient Warnings
  • Chaparral has been associated with severe liver damage, in some cases requiring liver transplantation.
  • In 1992, the F.D.A. issued a health warning urging withdrawal of all chaparral products.
  • Chaparral is an ingredient in black salve, which is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment.

Side Effects
  • Fatigue
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Stomach upset
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Liver damage
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Acute hepatitis
  • Kidney failure
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.