Even Latin names can confuse

In general, most of us use Latin plant names to minimize confusion as to which plant we are talking about. This, however, does not always work.

One of my favorite articles begins by noting that there is a fair amount of research on the use of Sanguinaria canadensis as a treatment for gingivitis. It then explains that there is “a high gingival index” in Mexico as well as a Mexican plant known as sanguinaria (Polygonum aviculare). Given this information, the logical next step was to sign on 60 male dental students with gingivitis to test a Mexican sanguinaria mouthwash.

These students agreed not to brush their teeth for two weeks and instead rinse their mouths twice daily with a Mexican sanguinaria extract. [I found it amazing that they could find 60 dental students who would offer to go without brushing their teeth for 2 weeks. In fact, 9 did not complete the study]

The mouthwash was made of triturated (dried & ground) Mexican sanguinaria (aka Polygonum aviculare) roots, stems or leaves & flowers dissolved in ethanol and diluted in water. In the end, it actually significantly reduced gingivitis. The dental students suffered an increase in plaque [need that mechanical brushing to fight plaque] but its composition did not seem to aggravate the gums and was easily removed.

The study explained that Mexican sanguinaria is astringent and has flavonoid components that may decrease capillary fragility but also merrily noted that their results agree “with those reported elsewhere in which a decrease in gingivitis with the utilization of Sanguinaria canadensis alone was demonstrated”. They also note that sanguinarine (an alkaloid from Sanguinaria) appears to prevent plaque and gingivitis.

I am tickled by this study because it shows that confusion can lead to insight. I suspect that the Mexican sanguinaria may be a better long term treatment for the gums than its harsher, completely unrelated friend, Sanguinaria canadensis.

Gonzalez Begne M, Yslas N, Reyes E, et al. Clinical effect of Mexican sanguinaria extract (Polygonum aviculare L.) on gingivitis. J Ethnopharmacol 2001; 74(1):45-51

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