Bamboo is native to Asia, where you may picture it being munched on by the black and white panda. Valued for its strength, it is now popular as a sustainable wood in home products all across the U.S. You may not know that extracts from bamboo, as well as the plant itself, may have health benefits. Talk to your doctor before taking bamboo as a supplement or remedy of any kind.
There are a variety of species of bamboo, with some being specific to certain countries like China or Japan. According to the American Bamboo Society website, bamboo is technically a grass. Some species grow only a foot in height while others grow over 100 feet. Some are more delicate, while others are sturdy, woody grasses that can be made into furniture and flooring. The leaves of certain bamboo plants have been used in traditional medicine, while tender bamboo "shoots" are found in Asian culinary dishes.
Extracts of bamboo leaves have been found to contain antioxidant properties. A study published in the Chinese journal "Guang Pu Xue Yu Guang Pu Fen Xi" in February 2010, discovered the free radical scavenging capacity of bamboo extracts. Dr. Guo and colleagues discovered that certain red compounds in the extract have the capacity to counteract free radical damage, suggesting that bamboo could potentially be used as an antioxidant. More data is needed, however; ask your doctor about bamboo extracts before using.
One particular bamboo, Kumaizasa bamboo found in Hokkaido, Japan, has been used in traditional healing for thousands of years. Recently two researchers from Tojo University in Japan discovered that extracts from Kumaizasa bamboo may have anti-cancer properties. Published in the journal "Anticancer Research" in January 2010, Drs. Seki and Maeda found that in mice with tumors, extracts of the bamboo inhibited growth of cancer cells. They also concluded that bamboo extracts prolonged life in the mice. These findings are promising, although more data will be needed before bamboo extract can be considered a treatment or prevention for cancer.
Bambusae caulis has been used as an anti-inflammatory remedy in Asia, states an article published in the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology" in March 2010. The study was conducted at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, Korea with the aim of testing the validity of the plant's medicinal use for asthma. Dr. J. Ra and colleagues found that extracts of Bambusae caulis reduced inflammation in airways. The herb also lowered levels of T helper 2 lymphocyte cells, which are associated with allergic reactions. Talk to your doctor before using bamboo extracts for allergic inflammation.
Some essential oils extracted from bamboo have been used as fragrances as well as body or skin care products. The internet is rife with bamboo essential oil products; purported to be a natural exfoliant, it is even used in facial cleansers. Do not use if you are allergic to bamboo. If a rash or sensitivity develops, discontinue use and consult a physician.
One report cites bamboo's potential to cause miscarriage. In Nigeria, Bambusa vulgaris leaves were used in traditional medicine to abort pregnancies. A study conducted by Dr. Yakubu and Dr. Bukoye in Nigeria investigated the plant for its abortive properties. The study, published in the journal "Conception" in September 2009, found that specific doses of the herb decreased the number of fetuses in rabbits. It also noted fluctuations in important hormone levels, which may have contributed to the loss of fetuses. More data is needed before conclusions can be drawn, but pregnant and lactating women should not use bamboo supplements.