What are the Medical Uses of Asafetida?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 28 April 2018
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Asafetida, or asafoetida, is a gum resin commonly used in spices or to preserve food. Though clinical studies have not yet been conducted into asafetida's efficacy as a medicine, proponents believe that it has antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, and other helpful effects on health. Asafetida is typically derived from the rhizomes and roots of the plant F. asa-foetida, which is native to Western Afghanistan and Eastern Iran. It is believed to have a centuries-long history of medical use.

Asafetida gum resin is typically made by extracting sap from the roots of the plant F. asa-foetida. The process of creating gum resin from the sap of a single plant typically takes about three months. One plant typically produces 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of gum resin. The resin is said to have a foul odor and is typically yellowish to reddish-brown, with a bitter taste. It is believed to have been used historically to treat respiratory problems, abdominal tumors, and hysteria.

Today, asafetida is commonly used as a food spice or food preservative. Asafetida's medicinal use continues. The resin is believed to have antiviral properties, particularly against flu virus H1N1 or swine flu. Research suggests that asafetida's antioxidant properties may make it an effective chemotherapy agent.

Proponents of medicinal asafetida believe that it can treat asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. The resin is believed to have sedative properties and is still used to calm hysteria and nervous problems. Asafetida is often used to treat stomach cramps and is believed to have antiflatulent properties. The resin is also believed to have aphrodisiac, stimulant, diuretic, and contraceptive properties.

Asafetida gum resin typically consists of four to 20 percent F. asa-foetida oil, 40 to 60 percent resin, and 25 percent gum. The resin typically contains organic sulfur compounds including asadisulfide and tetrasulfides, which account for its foul odor and bitter taste. Carotene, niacin, riboflavin, calcium, and phosphorous are often found in the finished resin preparation.

Asafetida has been traditionally administered in doses ranging from 200 to 500 miligrams (0.01 to 0.02 ounces) per day. A dietary supplement of ground asafetida gum resin and hot water may be prepared and consumed twice a week. Asafetida gum resin is not considered toxic to adults. It is believed, however, to be potentially fatal to infants.

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