Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)
Sarsaparilla grows throughout the world, with the tropical varieties found in the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, and Central America being most prized for their medicinal value. Sarsaparilla is particularly useful for illness caused by spirochetes, such as syphilis,16,17 leptospirosis and Lyme disease. In fact, it was included in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for secondary syphilis.18
Sarsaparilla contains plant steroids like sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol, and saponins including sarsasaponin, smilasaponin, sarsaparilloside, and sitosterol glucoside.19,20 The majority of sarsaparilla’s pharmacological properties and actions have been attributed to these steroids and saponins.
In China, the herb has been used in combination with other botanicals for syphilis and leptospirosis.21 Zampieron et al have experienced excellent clinical success using sarsaparilla for patients with Lyme disease.22 A protocol developed by Zampieron and Kamhi combines Jamaican or Honduras sarsaparilla (4:1 solid extract), tetracyclic oxidonle alkaloid (TOA), free cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), standardized olive leaf extract, Qinghao, and a combination of Chinese botanicals (including Lonicera Japonica, Glycyrrhiza uralenisi, Dictamnus dasycarpi, Portulacae oleraceae, Taraxacum mongoli, and Dipsacus japonica). These herbs are used as part of a comprehensive holistic protocol to address the ravages of Lyme disease.23
Saponins (found in sarsaparilla) emulsify and bind to endotoxins in the gastrointestinal tract, aiding in their elimination.24 Many illnesses, including RA,25 psoriasis,26 gout, and acne have been associated with increased levels of endotoxins.27,28 The anti-inflammatory mechanism of action of sarsaparilla for arthritis is linked to its ability to inhibit TNF-alpha-induced NFkB activation.29,30