- Ague tree
For Patients & Caregivers
Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.
How It Works
Safrole and oil of sassafras has been banned as a food additive by the FDA due to carcinogenic concerns, and should not be used to treat medical conditions.
Sassafras is a perennial tree native to Eastern United States. Native Americans used infusions made from the root bark as a remedy to treat fevers, diarrhea, and rheumatism. Sassafras was even used as a flavoring for root beer decades ago. However, sassafras contains safrole, a volatile oil, which has been classified as a likely carcinogen to humans, and banned as a food additive by the FDA.
Do Not Take If
For Healthcare Professionals
Sassafras is a perennial tree native to Eastern United States. The Native Americans used infusions made from the root bark as a remedy to treat fevers, diarrhea, and rheumatism. It was also used to scent perfume and even as a flavoring for root beer decades ago.
Studies of sassafras are quite limited and have only been conducted in vitro or in animals. A few experiments suggested antidiabetic (12) and anticancer effects (7) (8) (9) (10) (11). However, safrole was shown to be a carcinogen (5) (13), causing it to be banned as a food additive since the 1960s (5). Based on these data, the FDA continues to classify safrole as a Substance Generally Prohibited From Direct Addition or Use as Human Food (14).
Mechanism of Action
Safrole, the main active constituent, shows cytotoxic effects in human tongue squamous carcinoma SCC-4 cells by apoptosis via the mitochondria- and caspase-dependent signal pathways (7); and through the endoplasmic reticulum stress and intrinsic signaling pathways in human leukemia HL-60 cells (9). It also suppressed myelomonocytic leukemia WEHI-3 cells in vivo, and stimulated macrophage phagocytosis and natural killer cell cytotoxicity in leukemic mice (8).
Toxic effects of safrole in Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells were shown to be via induction of an increase in cytosolic free Ca2+ by causing Ca2+ release from the endoplasmic reticulum in a phospholipase C- and protein kinase C-independent fashion, and by inducing Ca2+ influx (16).
However, despite potential apoptotic and cytotoxic effects, data indicates that safrole is “Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” (5).