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Safrole - Side Effects of Safrole

Safrole is a natural constituent in some plants. Brown Camphor Oil (Cinnamomum Camphora) and sassafras oil (Sassafras Albidum) are its main natural sources. It is also found in certain other essential oils that contains volatile oils. These include Ocotea Cymbarum Oil (Ocotea Pretiosa), Aisne, Nutmeg, etc. The brewed tea prepared from powder of sassafras root bark contains 0.09 to 4.66 mg safrole per cup. (1)

Chemical Name 4 Allyl 1,2 methylenedioxybenzene
IUPAC Name 5-prop-2-enyl-1,3-benzodioxole
Also spelled as Safrol, Safrole, Safrols, Safroles
Other Names Shikimol, Shikimols
Molecular Formula C10H10O2
Molecular Weight 162.188 g/mol
Color Colorless or pale-yellow oil
Odor Sassafras odor
Melting Point 11.22° Celsius
Boiling Point 232.22to 234.5° Celsius
Absorption In Gastrointestinal Tract
Excretion Urine

Safrole acts as natural pesticide. In lab, it is synthesized from catechol. It is precursor in the synthesis of a few insecticides of methylenedioxybenzene group, especially piperonyl butoxide.

Side Effects of Safrole

Safrole was found in sassafras tea, root beer, perfumes and soaps. In rat study, it was found to be a carcinogenic. It is banned by the FDA after detection of its carcinogenic properties.

The oral intake of Safrole caused liver enlargement (hepatomegaly), benign and malignant tumours in rats.

The higher dosage of Safrole is also hepatocarcinogen, according to animal studies. However, carcinogenic property of safrole is weak in human, but significant to cause cancer in rodents. It can result in oxidative damage in the liver. (2)

It can also interfere with defence functions of neutrophils. (3)

Safrole oxide is a safrole metabolite, which can inhibit integrin β4/SOD expression and cause apoptosis of neurons. (4)

Safety Profile of Natural Sources of Safrole

After ban by the FDA, now sassafras oil is devoid of safrole. Therefore, it might be possibly safe. However, tea prepared from sassafras root bark also contains safrole, which may be a health concern, especially it taken on regular basis.

Brown camphor oil contains around 80% safrole. Therefore, it should not be used for any health benefits and should not be added in medicines. In place of it, white camphor oil can be useful because it contains very small amount of safrole and might not cause any adverse effect.

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