A few weeks ago, I reported on some rodent studies that demonstrated how helichyrsum (Helichyrsum italicum) and grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) extracts modulated biochemical pathways involved in sugar metabolism. This combination also positively influenced cellular stress markers and reduced the expression of two immune and inflammation modulating genes. These findings led me to research the effect of various compounds on metabolic markers relating to maintaining a healthy weight. However, prior to this cross-referencing fiasco, I had compiled some amazing facts on helichrysm, the herb and essential oil, which I’m excited to share with you now.
Helichrysum’s Diverse Roots
Helichrysum italicum (Asteraceae) is a shrub prevalent on the Mediterranean Basin. There are over 500 species distributed worldwide. (1) Helichyrsum species differ in their makeup of health- promoting secondary metabolites. (1-3) For example, in a study to determine the diversity of 50 different helichrysum populations, researchers reported that oxygenated monoterpenes were higher among genetic variants of this plant. However, four main classes were common among the essential oils. These included monoterpenes, oxygenated monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and oxygenated sesquiterpenes. (1) According to a 2013 PLoS ONE article:
The species complex has attracted attention on account of its secondary metabolite content, specifically flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactone and essential oils , –. H. italicum extracts have been shown to exhibit both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity , , and its antimicrobial activity (against both Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans) has been ascribed to the presence of terpenes and terpenoids –. (1)
Other researchers have also commented on the diversity and range of helichrysum constituents. (2-3) For example, in one study of Helichrysum italicum species, 44 compounds of 45 constituents were identified, mainly oxygenated sesquiterpenes. (2)
A Review Summary of Helichrysum’s Activity
Helichrysum has gained attention by researchers eager to see if its traditional uses have merit. Below are some reviews and studies summarizing their findings.
1. Inhospitality to Critters (in vitro)
In a recent review of the properties of helichrysum, the authors summarized in vitro studies that demonstrated its inhospitality to various critters:
In vitro studies characterized Helichrysum italicum as an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent. Its flavonoids and terpenes were effective against bacteria (e.g. Staphylococcus aureus), its acetophenones, phloroglucinols and terpenoids displayed antifungal action against Candida albicans and its flavonoids and phloroglucinols inhibited HSV and HIV, respectively. (4)
2. In Vitro Effects On Inflammatory Pathways
The same article also discussed various pathways of inflammation that metabolites in helichrysum influenced:
Helichrysum italicum acetophenones, flavonoids and phloroglucinols demonstrated inhibitory action in different pathways of arachidonic acid metabolism and other pro-inflammatory mediators. (4)
3. Its In Vivo Activity of Photoprotection & Inflammatory Pathway Modulation
In vivo activity was also explored:
Regarding Helichrysum italicum in vivo activity, the highlight goes to the anti-erythematous and photoprotective activities of its flavonoids, demonstrated both in animals and humans, and to the anti-inflammatory properties exhibited by its flavonoids, acetophenones and phloroglucinols, as seen in animal models. (4)
Toxicity wasn’t displayed in the review. There was one case of an allergic response reported.(4) (Note: in my opinion this could be in relationship of flavonoids modulating detoxifying enzymes in the liver or a sub-quality extract used.)
The depth of plant’s healing potential fascinates me. In a study intended to isolate a constituent from helichrysum, arzanol, several different phenolics and sanitols (a class of plant lipids) were also discovered. The authors reported on the activity of arzanol and some of these phenolics in relation to staphylococcus aureus:
The antibacterial activity of arzanol and of a selection of Helichrysum phenolics that includes coumarates, benzofurans, pyrones, and heterodimeric phloroglucinols was evaluated, showing that only the heterodimers showed potent antibacterial action against multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolates. These observations validate the topical use of Helichrysum extracts to prevent wound infections, a practice firmly established in the traditional medicine of the Mediterranean area. (5)
An earlier study also supported the in vitro and in vivo activity of arzanol on inflammatory pathways in rats. The details are below for those who wish to navigate the biochemical soup:
Arzanol inhibited 5-lipoxygenase (EC 220.127.116.11) activity and related leukotriene formation in neutrophils, as well as the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 (EC 18.104.22.168) and the formation of COX-2-derived prostaglandin (PG)E(2)in vitro (IC(50)=2.3-9?M). Detailed studies revealed that arzanol primarily inhibits microsomal PGE(2) synthase (mPGES)-1 (EC 22.214.171.124, IC(50)=0.4?M) rather than COX-2. In fact, arzanol could block COX-2/mPGES-1-mediated PGE(2) biosynthesis in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated human monocytes and human whole blood, but not the concomitant COX-2-derived biosynthesis of thromboxane B(2) or of 6-keto PGF(1?), and the expression of COX-2 or mPGES-1 protein was not affected. Arzanol potently suppressed the inflammatory response of the carrageenan-induced pleurisy in rats (3.6mg/kg, i.p.), with significantly reduced levels of PGE(2) in the pleural exudates. Taken together, our data show that arzanol potently inhibits the biosynthesis of pro-inflammatory lipid mediators like PGE(2)in vitro and in vivo, providing a mechanistic rationale for the anti-inflammatory activity of H. italicum, and a rationale for further pre-clinical evaluation of this novel anti-inflammatory lead. (6)
Intestinal Complaints & Mice
One study sought to determine the effect on intestinal complaints using an ethanolic extract of Helichrysum italicum. This in vivo and in vitro study showed calming of complaints in the isolated mouse ileum (small intestine):
We found that the ethanolic extract of Helichrysum italicum ssp. italicum flowers elicited antispasmodic actions in the isolated mouse ileum and inhibited transit preferentially in the inflamed gut. A bioassay guided fractionation of the extract yielded the known compounds 12-acetoxytremetone (1) and 2,3-dihydro-2-[1-(hydroxymethyl)ethenyl]-5-benzofuranyl]-ethanone (2). (7)
The diversity among the species of helichrysm is vast. However, the potential of all its constituents to support various biochemical pathways is pretty impressive. Whether it’s through the brain healthy sesquiterpenes or the immune supporting monoterpenes, helichrysm definitely puts a new meaning to “potency in one little drop!”
Disclaimer: There is no quality control in the United States for essential oils and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only contain 5% of the actual oil! The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin and body. These studies are not specific for any essential oils company, please reference the study for the source. This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness.
(1) Melito S, Sias A, Petretto GL, Chessa M, Pintore G, Porceddu A. Genetic and Metabolite Diversity of Sardinian Populations of Helichrysum italicum. Crandall KA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(11):e79043. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079043.
(2) Mancini E, De Martino L, Marandino A, Scognamiglio MR, De Feo V. Chemical Composition and Possible in Vitro Phytotoxic Activity of Helichrsyum italicum (Roth) Don ssp. italicum. Molecules. 2011; 16(9):7725-7735.
(3) ?avar Zeljkovi? S, Šoli? ME, Maksimovi? M. Volatiles of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G. Don from Croatia. Nat Prod Res. 2015 Feb 12:1-4
(4) Antunes Viegas D1, Palmeira-de-Oliveira A2, Salgueiro L3, Martinez-de-Oliveira J4, Palmeira-de-Oliveira R5. Helichrysum italicum: from traditional use to scientific data. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):54-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.005. Epub 2013 Nov 14.
(5) Taglialatela-Scafati O1, Pollastro F, Chianese G, Minassi A, Gibbons S, Arunotayanun W, Mabebie B, Ballero M, Appendino G. Antimicrobial phenolics and unusual glycerides from Helichrysum italicum subsp. microphyllum. J Nat Prod. 2013 Mar 22;76(3):346-53. doi: 10.1021/np3007149. Epub 2012 Dec 24.
(6) Bauer J1, Koeberle A, Dehm F, Pollastro F, Appendino G, Northoff H, Rossi A, Sautebin L, Werz O. Arzanol, a prenylated heterodimeric phloroglucinyl pyrone, inhibits eicosanoid biosynthesis and exhibits anti-inflammatory efficacy in vivo. Biochem Pharmacol. 2011 Jan 15;81(2):259-68. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2010.09.025. Epub 2010 Oct 8.
(7) Rigano D1, Formisano C, Senatore F, Piacente S, Pagano E, Capasso R, Borrelli F, Izzo AA. Intestinal antispasmodic effects of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) Don ssp. italicum and chemical identification of the active ingredients. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Dec 12;150(3):901-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.09.034. Epub 2013 Oct 16.
Images courtesy istockphoto.com