Punarnava, also known as Boerhaavia diffusa, is an herb that can fight cancer and lower inflammation (1).
Punarnava is also helpful in treating diabetes, indigestion, menstrual symptoms, and asthma (2).
It is a tropical plant commonly used in Ayurveda, a branch of medicine practiced in India that involves using herbs to treat various bodily ailments (3).
It grows in the form of a creeping weed that is very prevalent in India, and is normally consumed as a vegetable (4).
In addition to being an ancient remedy in India, Punarnava has long been touted as a painkiller in the Caribbean, mostly as part of a folk medicine ritual. According to scientific studies conducted to test the veracity of its benefits, punarnava has been shown to effectively reduce the sensation of pain in mice by 47-50% (5).
Punarnava has also been shown to contain a compound called methanolic root extract that has the ability to block calcium channels, meaning that it can be useful in treating epilepsy (6).
In fact, injections of the methanolic root extract taken from punarnava have been used for centuries in Nigerian folk medicine to reduce the onset of seizures (7). This herbal supplement is similar to the clinically prescribed Diazepam in this regard, but must be used in much higher dosages to attain a similar effect (7).
Other studies have shown that punarnava can be useful in the treatment of diabetes as well. In one study, mice with diabetes were given punarnava as a vegetable every day for thirty days. Over this time, researchers saw a trend of normalization of both blood glucose and serum insulin (8). This same effect, however, was not recorded in non-diabetic mice, although they, too, saw health benefits (8).
The anti-diabetic effects of punarnava were put to the test again in another study, and it was found to be almost as effective as known diabetes drugs in managing glucose and insulin levels (9).
However, these studies were conducted on animals with diabetes, not humans, so there is still a significant amount of testing to be done before a consensus can be reached about its efficacy in the human body.
Yet other studies conducted on mice have shown that punarnava can also increase the production of white blood cells, meaning that it can strengthen the immune system (10). Unfortunately, though, in other contexts, punarnava was shown to actually suppress the immune system (11). This conflicting information is something that is being studied at the current time, so that a definitive answer can be reached.
Research has also been done on punarnava’s effects on cancer treatment. Several studies have shown that this supplement can inhibit the metastasis of certain types of cancer, and can reduce tumor formation, especially in the lungs (12).
It is not always clear, however, if these effects are based on punarnava alone, of if it is acting as secondary to the immune system (13).
Regardless, mice with cancer who were injected with punarnava were shown to have an increase in lifespan of 240-257% when compared to mice in the control group (14).
In vitro tests of punarnava have shown that it is also an extremely potent antioxidant, with antioxidant levels comparable to that of vitamin c (15). It was noted that the roots of the punarnava plant were more effective than the plant’s leaves in this respect, which implies that the part of the punarnava one consumes has a big effect on how effective it is (16).
In other trials, punarnava has been shown to be effective in treating asthma, reducing kidney stones, treating indigestion and other intestinal issues, and reducing estrogen to help regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and possibly prevent breast cancer (17, 18, 19, 20).
Most studies show that punarnava is safe for consumption, especially in its natural form. No signs of toxicity within the body were reported (21). This means that punarnava may be eaten as a vegetable with no noted side effects, whether or not it has any beneficial effect on the above-listed functions and organs. It appears to be perfectly safe for humans to consume, although more studies are being done to test its safety and efficacy all the time.
It should be noted, though, that punarnava contains sugar and a self-generated alcohol compound, so it should not be used by persons with diabetes unless they are being closely monitored by a professional (22).
Most dosages for punarnava are calculated based on dosing amounts used in mice or rats in research studies. In rats, the appropriate dosage is 200-400mg/kg, with the maximally effective dose being 1000mg/kg. The human equivalent of this dosage is 32-64mg/kg, or 2,200-4,300mg for a person who weighs 150 pounds, 2,900-5,800mg for a person who weighs 200 pounds, and 3,600-7,200mg for a person who weighs 250 pounds (23).
It is important to note that no studies have been done on humans in relation to punarnava (23). All of the tests so far have been done on lab animals, meaning that this dosage is just an educated estimate. The fact that punarnava has been used for centuries as a part of Indian, Caribbean, and Nigerian folk medicine without any reports of serious side effects is evidence that it seems to be well-tolerated in the human body, however.
Punarnava has a whole host of potential benefits for the human body. It shows great promise in helping to treat everything from indigestion to asthma to diabetes to cancer, and can even work as an effective painkiller and antioxidant.
The only downside is that most of the research on punarnava has been conducted on animals and not human subjects. This does not mean, however, that the herb is not effective on humans, as it has long been used as a remedy for various ailments. It is important to note that while punarnava can be extremely beneficial to the body, more research needs to be done before one can say with absolute certainty whether or not it is an effective treatment for human health issues.