Atropa belladonna (also referred to as belladonna and deadly nightshade) is a poisonous plant. Interestingly, its leaves and roots are used in appropriate amounts to make medicine. It contains important alkaloids, including scopolamine and hyoscyamine. These constituent alkaloids are used as anticholinergic drugs that are used widely in clinical practice.
Belladonna works primarily as an anticholinergic. This means that it blocks a substance called acetylcholine, which is secreted at the nerve-muscle junctions. Acetylcholine is vital to the functioning of the nervous system as well as gut and eye health. It regulates the secretory functions (also called parasympathetic effects in the body). Some of the bodily functions regulated by the nervous system include:
- Salivation: Decreases the salivation making the mouth dry.
- Sweating: Reduces the amount of sweat and makes the skin warm and dry.
- Pupil size: Dilates the pupil and can affect vision.
- Urination: It can cause difficulty in passing urine.
- Digestive functions: Relaxes the muscles in the stomach and intestines, thereby slowing the natural movements in the gut. Therefore, it can reduce cramps.
What are the uses of belladonna?
Belladonna has been used in alternative medicine for sleep-inducing (sedation) reasons along with other uses, such as:
- Arthritis pain and nerve pain (as painkiller ointments)
- Hay fever and allergies
- Bronchospasms caused by asthma or whooping cough
- Hemorrhoids (as suppositories)
- Parkinson's disease
- Abdominal colic
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Motion sickness (probably by depressing the central nervous system)
Due to a lack of scientific evidence, it is not certain whether the plant belladonna is safe and effective in treating any of the medical conditions.
Is belladonna safe?
As per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), belladonna is likely to be unsafe and can cause toxic reactions if taken without medical supervision. Under medical supervision, it is relatively safe.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has warned against using belladonna-containing medications that are widely found in homeopathic gels. These gels are used for teething in infants and children. Some of the companies that manufactured these medications were found to contain the levels of belladonna more than the safe levels. It is advisable to consult a homeopathic physician and general physician before taking any of the belladonna-containing medications for your child or yourself.
Some research studies have shown homeopathic medicines containing the diluted form of belladonna to be safe. However, these studies are preliminary. On their basis, it is not appropriate to recommend belladonna homeopathic medicines as a home remedy or as a health supplement. Further research is needed. As of now, it is imperative to take them only under strict medical supervision.
Even herbal supplements that contain belladonna may be unsafe due to a lack of medical guidance. It is advisable to ask your doctor before taking any of the belladonna-containing preparations.
It might be tempting to use belladonna in place of the conventional medicines that you must be taking for your health condition. However, it may be risky to self-medicate or substitute a standard drug with something whose efficacy and safety data needs to be validated.
Your doctor may prescribe the standard dose of FDA-approved medications containing scopolamine or hyoscyamine (extracted from belladonna) to treat health issues. The manufactured drugs are regulated by FDA and hence, contain the ingredients in safe and effective amounts after extensive clinical trials.
Are there any interactions of belladonna with medications?
Another concern with the use of belladonna is the possible drug interactions:
- Belladonna-Cisapride interaction: Belladonna may interact with the medication, Cisapride, and reduce its concentration in blood. This may reduce the desired benefit of Cisapride in treating conditions, such as heartburn in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Belladonna-anticholinergic drugs interaction: Being an anticholinergic, belladonna can increase the drying effect of other anticholinergic medications that include:
What are the possible side effects of belladonna?
Belladonna is known to cause a wide range of side effects on account of its anticholinergic activity. The possible side effects include:
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Medline Plus. Belladonna. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/531.html
Walach H, Köster H, Hennig T, Haag G. The Effects of Homeopathic Belladonna 30CH in Healthy Volunteers -- A Randomized, Double-Blind Experiment. J Psychosom Res. March 2001;50(3):155-60. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11316508/
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