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Updated 18 February 2013

Belladonna (Atropa belladonna L. or its variety acuminata Royle ex Lindl)

Belladonna is an herb that has been used for centuries for a variety of indications, including headache, menstrual symptoms, peptic ulcer disease, inflammation, and motion sickness. Belladonna is known to contain active agents with anticholinergic properties, such as the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine), and hyoscyamine.

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RELATED TERMS

Atropa belladonna, atropa belladonna-AE, beladona, belladone, belladonnae herbae pulvis standardisatus, belladonna herbum, Belladonna Homaccord, Belladonna Injeel, Belladonna Injeel Forte, belladonna leaf, belladonna pulvis normatus, belladonnae folium, belladonna radix, belladonne, deadly nightshade, deadly nightshade leaf, devil's cherries, devil's herb, die belladonna, die tollkirsche, divale, dwale, dwayberry, galnebaer, great morel, herba belladonna, hoja de belladonna, naughty man's cherries, poison black cherries, powdered belladonna, Solanaceae (family), solanum mortale, solanum somniferum, strygium, stryshon, tollekirsche, tollkirschenblatter.

BACKGROUND

Belladonna is an herb that has been used for centuries for a variety of indications, including headache, menstrual symptoms, peptic ulcer disease, inflammation, and motion sickness. Belladonna is known to contain active agents with anticholinergic properties, such as the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine), and hyoscyamine.

There are few available studies of belladonna alone for any indication. Most research has evaluated belladonna in combination with other agents, such as ergot alkaloids or barbiturates, or in homeopathic (diluted) preparations. Preliminary evidence suggests possible efficacy in combination with barbiturates for the management of symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. However, there is currently insufficient scientific evidence regarding the use of belladonna for this or any other indication.

Common adverse effects include dry mouth, urinary retention, flushing, pupillary dilation, constipation, confusion, and delirium. Many of these effects may occur at therapeutic doses.

EVIDENCE TABLE

Conditions

Uses
disclaimer: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Grade*

Airway obstruction

Belladonna can cause relaxation of the airway and reduce the amount of mucus produced. However, due to a lack of high-quality human research in this area, there is not enough evidence to form a clear conclusion.

C

Ear infection

Little reliable research is available on the use of belladonna for ear infections. Other therapies have been shown to be effective and are recommended for this condition.

C

Headache

The available studies of belladonna in the treatment of headache are not well designed and do not show a clear benefit. More studies are needed to test the ability of belladonna alone (not in multi-ingredient products) to treat or prevent headache.

C

Irritable bowel syndrome

Belladonna has been used historically for the treatment of irritable bowel, and in theory its mechanism of action should be effective for some of the symptoms. However, of the few studies that are available, none clearly show that belladonna alone (not as part of a mixed product) provides this effect.

C

Menopausal symptoms

Bellergal© (a combination of phenobarbital, ergot, and belladonna) has been used historically to treat hot flashes. However, in human studies belladonna supplements have not shown effectiveness.

C

Nervous system disorders

The autonomic nervous system, which helps control basic body functions like sweating and blood flow, is affected in several disorders. To date, human studies have shown no benefit from belladonna in treating these disorders.

C

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Bellergal© (a combination of phenobarbital, ergot, and belladonna) has been used to treat PMS symptoms. More studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

C

Radiation therapy rash (radiation burn)

There is a lack of reliable scientific evidence available for the effectiveness of belladonna for rash after radiation therapy. Further study is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

C

Sweating (excessive)

There is a lack of reliable scientific evidence available for the effectiveness of belladonna to treat excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis). More research is needed in this area.

C

*Key to grades: A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).

TRADITION

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below. Abnormal menstrual periods, acute infections, acute inflammation, anesthetic, antispasmodic, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, bedwetting, bowel disorders, chicken pox, colds, colitis, conjunctivitis (inflamed eyes), dental conditions, diarrhea, diuretic (use as a "water pill"), diverticulitis, earache, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), eye disorders (dilation of the pupils), fever, flu, glaucoma, gout, hay fever, hemorrhoids, hyperkinesis (excessive motor function), inflammation, kidney stones, measles, motion sickness, mumps, muscle and joint pain, muscle spasms (excessive unintentional muscle movements), nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, organophosphate poisoning, pain from nerve disorders, Parkinson's disease, pancreatitis, peritonitis, rash, scarlet fever, sciatica (back and leg pain), sedative, sore throat, stomach ulcers, teething, toothache, ulcerative colitis, urinary tract disorders (difficulty passing urine), warts, whooping cough.

DOSING

disclaimer: The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older)

A traditional dose of belladonna leaf powder is 50 to 100 milligrams taken by mouth, with a maximum single dose of 200 milligrams (0.6 milligrams of total alkaloids, calculated as the ingredient hyoscyamine) and a maximum daily dose of 600 milligrams. A traditional dose of belladonna root is 50 milligrams, with a maximum single dose of 100 milligrams (0.5 milligrams of total alkaloids, calculated as hyoscyamine) and a maximum daily dose of 300 milligrams. A traditional dose of belladonna extract is 10 milligrams, with a maximum single dose of 100 milligrams (0.5 milligrams of total alkaloids, calculated as hyoscyamine) and a maximum daily dose of 150 milligrams. The expert German panel, the Commission E, suggests these doses mainly for the treatment of "gastrointestinal spasm." For tincture of belladonna (composed of 27 to 33 milligrams of belladonna leaf alkaloids in 100 milliliters of alcohol), informal reports suggest either a total dose of 1.5 milligrams daily (divided into three doses daily with a double dose at bedtime) or a dose of 0.6 to 1 milliliters (0.18 to 0.3 milligrams of belladonna leaf alkaloids) taken 3-4 times daily.

For headache, studies have used the combination product Bellergal© (40 milligrams phenobarbital, 0.6 milligrams ergotamine tartrate, 0.2 milligrams levorotatory alkaloids of belladonna), taken by mouth twice daily.

Homeopathic doses often depend on the symptom being treated and the style of the prescribing provider. Dosing practices may therefore vary widely. Usually, a homeopathic product is diluted several times. For example, belladonna may be diluted by 100 (one teaspoon belladonna added to 99 teaspoons water) in the first round, and this new, dilute mixture may be diluted 30-fold (1 teaspoon of the dilute mixture added to 29 teaspoons water).

A belladonna plaster produced by Cuxson Gerrard (England) containing 0.25% belladonna alkaloids (hyoscine 2%, atropine 1%) has been used topically (applied to the skin) for muscle and bone aches. Long-term use may cause a rash at the site of the plaster.

Children (younger than 18 years)

Informal reports describe a typical dose of 0.03 milliliter for each kilogram of weight, taken by mouth three times daily. Another dose that has been used is 0.8 milliliter for each square meter of body surface area, taken by mouth three times daily (27 to 33 milligrams of belladonna leaf alkaloids in 100 milliliters). The maximum dose is reported as 3.5 milliliters in a day. Safety and effectiveness have not been proven.

Death in children may occur at 0.2 milligram of atropine for each kilogram of a child's weight. Since 2 milligrams of atropine are often found in a fruit, just two fruits may be deadly for a small child.

Homeopathic doses often depend on the symptom being treated and the style of the prescribing provider. Dosing practices may therefore vary widely. Usually, a homeopathic product is diluted several times.

SAFETY

disclaimer: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

Belladonna should be avoided in people who have had significant reactions to belladonna or anticholinergic drugs, or who are allergic to belladonna or other members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family such as bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. Long-term use of belladonna on the skin can lead to allergic rashes.

Side Effects and Warnings

In smaller doses, belladonna is traditionally thought to be safe, but may cause frequent side effects such as dilated pupils, blushing of the skin, dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, confusion, nervousness, and hallucinations. Based on animal study, belladonna alkaloids may inhibit cognitive function and gastrointestinal motility. High doses can cause death.

In children, death can be caused by a small amount of belladonna. Several reports of accidental belladonna overdose and death are reported. Belladonna overdose can also occur when it is applied to the skin. Belladonna overdose is highly dangerous and should be treated by qualified medical professionals. Because belladonna can slow the movement of food and drugs through the stomach and gut, the side effects may go on long after the belladonna is swallowed.

Belladonna may cause redness of the skin, flushing, dry skin, sun sensitivity, hives, and allergic rashes, even at dilute concentrations. A very serious, potentially life-threatening rash called Stevens-Johnson syndrome has been reported. Other side effects reported are headache, hyperactivity, nervousness, dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness or sedation, unsteady walking, confusion, slurred speech, exaggerated reflexes, or convulsions. The eyes may be sensitive to light and vision may be blurry. If pieces of belladonna are put into the eye, the pupils may be dilated permanently.

Cases report hyperventilation, coma with the loss of breathing, and severe high blood pressure. Others report abdominal fullness, difficult urination, decreased perspiration, slow release of breast milk while nursing, muscle cramps or spasms, and tremors. Belladonna should be avoided in those with difficulty passing urine, enlarged prostate, kidney stones, dry mouth, Sj©gren syndrome, dry eyes, or glaucoma. Belladonna should be used cautiously with a fever. People with myasthenia gravis (a disorder of nerves and muscles) or Down's syndrome may be especially sensitive to belladonna.

Older adults and children should avoid belladonna, as there are many reports of serious effects in these age groups. Belladonna should not be combined with prescribed anticholinergic agents. People with heart disease, who have had a heart attack, fluid in the lungs, high blood pressure, or abnormal heart rhythms, should avoid belladonna. Because belladonna can affect the activity of the stomach and intestines, people who have had ulcers, reflux, hiatal hernia, obstruction of the bowel, poor movement of the intestines, constipation, colitis, or an ileostomy or colostomy after surgery should avoid belladonna.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Belladonna is not recommended in pregnancy and breastfeeding because of the risks of side effects and poisoning. Belladonna is listed under category C according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (category C includes drugs for which no thorough studies have been published). In nursing women who use belladonna, belladonna ingredients are found in breast milk, therefore endangering infants.

INTERACTIONS

disclaimer: Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

Belladonna may slow the movement of food and medication through the gut, and therefore some medications may be absorbed more slowly. Many prescribed medications can interact with anticholinergic drugs that have similar effects to belladonna. A qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, should be consulted prior to taking belladonna.

Atropine is an ingredient in belladonna. Theoretically, drugs that interact with atropine may also interact with belladonna. Some antidepressant medications (tricyclic drugs) can interact with belladonna. The effects of the drug cisapride, used to increase the movement of food through the stomach, may be blocked. Medications that can increase heart rate, especially procainamide, can cause an exaggerated increase in heart rate if given with belladonna. The use of alcohol with belladonna can cause extreme slowing of brain function.

Belladonna may also interact with alkaloids, atropine, ergot derivatives, hormonal agents, drugs that increase sun sensitivity, drugs cleared by the kidney, scopolamine, and tacrine (Cognex©).

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

Belladonna may slow the movement of food and medication through the gut, and therefore some supplements may be absorbed more slowly. The use of belladonna with supplements that have anticholinergic activity, such as Jimson weed (Datura stramonium), may increase its effects and worsen its side effects.

Belladonna may also interact with alcohol, alkaloids, ergot derivatives, hormonal agents, and herbs and supplements that increase sun sensitivity or are cleared by the kidneys.

ATTRIBUTION

This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

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  • Bergmans M, Merkus J, Corbey R, et al. Effect of Bellergal Retard on climacteric complaints: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Maturitas 1987;9:227-234. View abstract
  • Bettermann H, Cysarz D, Portsteffen A, et al. Bimodal dose-dependent effect on autonomic, cardiac control after oral administration of Atropa belladonna. Auton Neurosci 2001;90(1-2):132-137. View abstract
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  • King JC. Anisotropine methylbromide for relief of gastrointestinal spasm: double- blind crossover comparison study with belladonna alkaloids and phenobarbital. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp 1966;8(11):535-541. View abstract
  • Lichstein J, Mayer JD. Drug therapy in the unstable bowel (irritable colon). A 15-month double-blind clinical study in 75 cases of response to a prolonged-acting belladonna alkaloid-phenobarbital mixture or placebo. J Chron Dis 1959;9(4):394-404. View abstract
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  • Shanafelt TD, Barton DL, Adjei AA, et al. Pathophysiology and treatment of hot flashes. Mayo Clin Proc 2002;77(11):1207-1218. View abstract
  • Stieg RL. Double-blind study of belladonna-ergotamine-phenobarbital for interval treatment of recurrent throbbing headache. Headache 1977;17(3):120-124. View abstract
  • Tsiskarishvili NV, Tsiskarishvili TsI. [Colorimetric determination of eccrine sudoriferous glands functional condition in case of hyperhidrosis and their correction by belladonna]. Georgian Med News 2006;(140):47-50. View abstract
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disclaimer: Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2011 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions. disclaimer: While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy. disclaimer: The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)



Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
 
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