Asafoetida benefits and its side effects

Know in one minute about Asafoetida

  • Promotes metabolism, prevents bloating, colic, constipation, and kidney injury.
  • It lowers blood pressure, sugar level, pain, inflammation, and nerve damage.
  • This spice helps to treat anxiety, fatigue, sweating, vomiting, depression, seizures, and hallucinations.
  • Asafoetida is also employed to improve fertility, the sign of aging, muscle cramps, memory, and learning capability.
  • Effective to treat parasite and protozoan infection.

Introduction

Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida) is a gum resin extracted from the cut in the stem and roots of plants. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, widely used to flavor curries, meatballs, dal, and pickles. The ‘Assa-foetida’ name is derived from the Latin word which means “carrier of bad smell.” This spice has been used traditionally for the treatment of stomachache, flatulence, intestinal parasites, weak digestion, asthma, and epilepsy. Nepali people use asafoetida as a sedative agent whereas Americans people use it as a stimulant agent. Thus it contains calming and stimulatory effects together. Recently various research studies reported benefits of asafetida to treat diabetes, inflammation, pain, blood pressure, indigestion, infertility, aging, and many more.

Common name

Anghouzeh, asafetida, awei, hing, devil’s dung, foods of the godsjowani badian, merde dudiable,  hengu, ingu, kayam, stinkasant and stinking gum

Geographical distribution

It is widely grown in central Asia, especially in Iran and Afghanistan from where it is exported all over the world

Main constituents of asafoetida

It contain carbohydrates (68 %), moisture (16 %), protein (4 %), fat (1 %), minerals (7 %) and fiber (4 %). It also consists of three main fractions, including resin (40-64 %), gum (25 %), and essential oil (10-17 %). Phytochemical including Ferulic acid and its esters, coumarins, sesquiterpene coumarins, and other terpenoids found in asafoetida. 

Health benefits of Asafoetida

1. Diuretic properties

Flavonoids and other phenolic compounds help to increase urine, sodium, potassium, and urea output by the kidney (1).

2. Anti-leishmanial properties

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease, however, the intake of asafoetida (due to coumarins) is beneficial to prevent the growth of this parasite (2).

3. Relax muscle and lower blood pressure

Ingestion of asafoetida relieves, prevents, or lowers the incidence of muscle spasms and helps to reduce arterial blood pressure (3).

4. Treat indigestion (dyspepsia)

Asafoetida reduces the symptoms of dyspepsia like bloating, unpleasant sense of fullness, and constipation (4). Thus it helps to improve proper stomach emptying, digestion, and absorption of nutrients (5).

5. Prevent Blastocystis infection

Asafoetida is effective to treat Blastocystis infection (protozoan disease) which causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and skin rash (6).

6. Treat Withdrawal syndrome

Withdrawal syndrome occurs after stopping or reducing the intake of a drug. These syndrome symptoms are anxiety, fatigue, sweating, vomiting, depression, seizures, and hallucinations. However, the intake of asafoetida is effective to reduce all these symptoms by blocking the contact (neurotransmitters) in the nervous system (7).

7. Treat cancer

Intake of asafoetida and its oil help to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells and induce apoptosis (8). Moreover, it also decreases the spread of cancer cells from the breast to another part of the body (breast cancer metastasis)(9).

8. Treat Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain activity disorder, which causes seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. However, terpenoids compounds found in asafoetida are helpful to reduce the occurrence of the seizure (10)

9. Treat peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve damage disorder of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves).  These disease symptoms are weakness, numbness, and pain, usually in the hands and feet. However, asafoetida is acting as a nerve stimulant which helps in the treatment of nerve disorder (peripheral neuropathy) (11).

10. Treat diabetes

Asafoetida ingestion helps to reduce blood glucose and increase serum insulin levels, thus it can be useful to prevent diabetic complications (12).

11. Treat pain and inflammation

Asafoetida contains Ferulic acid and sesquiterpene coumarins which act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems. These compounds help to relieve long term and short term pain and inflammation (13).

12. Anti-aging properties

Asafoetida contains a high amount of antioxidants such as Ferulic acid, which give new life to aging cells. Therefore, the intake of the lower amount of asafetida prevents the process of deterioration with age (14). Furthermore, asafoetida also helps to enhance memory by boosting the endogenous antioxidant system, thus useful to treat dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (15).

13. Improve fertility

Asafoetida acts as an aphrodisiac that improves the sperm number, motility, morphology, and viability as well as testosterone levels. Thus, the intake of asafoetida in a low amount is effective to increase sexual desire, sexual pleasure, or sexual behavior(16).

Side effect of Asafoetida

A research study suggested that asafoetida can be considered safe up to 1000 mg/kg dose in the animal (17). It is considered safe when used in a lower amount, however, too much ingestion may cause the following side effects.

1. Risk of methemoglobinemia

Asafoetida intake by the infant can cause methemoglobinemia with symptoms like abnormally rapid breathing, low sound, and blue skin (18).

2. Other side effects

  • Excessive consumption can lead to swelling of the lips, mouth, digestive complaints such as flatulence and diarrhea, anxiety, and headache (19).
  • The higher amount of asafoetida can kill normal healthy cells (14).
  • Lower doses of asafetida protect the neurons and improve the survival rate of them, however in higher concentrations can cause neuronal death. (20).
  • However short term intake did not show any toxicity, but long term consumption can affect the liver and blood parameters (21).
  • Application of asafoetida on the tummy can cause swelling in the genital organs and a high amount of consumption may harm testis (16).
  • It should not recommend being used by pregnant and nursing mothers or children (22).
  • Individuals who are under medication like warfarin (blood thinner) should not take asafoetida.  Because it can interact with warfarin to cause bleeding (23).
  • Asafoetida contains coumarin, which can cause Chromosomal damage (24).

Q&A

Asafoetida benefits for babies?

Nope, asafoetida is not good for babies, especially given orally because they cannot digest it properly and can affect the babies. However, you can topically apply its paste (very little amount) with water on the tummy by gently massaging or rubbing. This spice helps to get relief from gas and stomach pain, further studies needed to ensure its effects.

Asafoetida benefits for skin?

  • Asafoetida in a lower amount is an excellent source of antioxidants such as ferulic acid, which is a skin-friendly compound.  
  • This compound protects the skin from UV radiation and decreases the redness of skin by sunburn. 
  • It contains more antioxidant properties and harmful radical scavenging ability than Vitamin C thus protects the cells from oxidative damage.
  •  Apart from ferulic acid it also contains alpha-terpineol which shows anti-inflammatory and skin-irritating effects.
  • It also contains diallyl disulfide, luteolin, isopimpinellin, and azulene which prevent skin damage, skin aging, and is widely used in cosmetic products (14)

Why is asafoetida called Devil’s dung?

It is also known as Devil’s dung because it has an unpleasant smell and a sickening or bitter taste. However, it is also called ‘Food of God’, mainly due to the health beneficial effects and medicinal properties.

Is asafoetida good for gas?

Yes, it has gastro-protective activity, treats stomach ache, bloating, fullness, gastritis, and reduced appetite. Therefore, asafoetida can be used as a digestive supplement to alleviate gut disorders originating from the diet, alcoholism, smoking, and chemical drugs (25).

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