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Aveloz

Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D.

These are just some of the statements used to publicize aveloz, a remedy prepared from the milky sap of a Brazilian shrub with the scientific name Euphorbia heterodoxa Mull. Arg. The saps of various Euphorbia species have been used in folk medicine since at least 400 B.C. because of their corrosive properties. Euphorbia heterodoxa is commonly known as killwart because its sap-used by the Amazon Indians and later the Dutch, Portuguese and Galician settlers in northeastern Brazil-was thought to be effective when applied to warts and tumors, particularly those located on the face.

A Brazilian physician named Pamfilio is said to have introduced aveloz into conventional medicine sometime in the 1880s or 1890s, but it remained obscure until the 1980s. Today it is sold in the United States in liquid form by herbal practitioners. The promotional literature recommends consumption of five drops in a half glass of water or herb tea, three times a day, for the treatment of cancer, benign tumors, cysts and warts. Aveloz is also marketed in the form of an ointment intended for local application.

Because of its relative obscurity, the aveloz plant has apparently never been analyzed chemically. However, it is common knowledge that about 90%of the species of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family yield a white latex-like sap that is extremely irritating to the skin and mucous membranes and can produce skin inflammation, conjunctivitis of the eyes, burning of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis.

The chemical compounds (certain diterpene esters) responsible for these irritant effects also act as tumor promoters. Such compounds do not cause cancer by themselves but seem to interact with sub-threshold doses of carcinogens to induce cancer in laboratory animals. (Experiments to test this in human beings are obviously not possible.) So, although its exact chemical constituents are unknown, it is apparent that aveloz has serious potential for harm.

Curiously, there may also be some potential for good. Researchers have shown that extracts of certain plants in the Euphorbia family do indeed show antileukemic activity that could be attributed to their content of certain diterpene esters. Obviously, it is important to learn which specific structural features of these constituents cause them to act as tumor promoters, on one hand, and as antileukemic agents on the other. Obviously, too, it would be highly imprudent for cancer patients to experiment with this possibly two-edged sword at this time.

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Dr. Tyler, now retired, is former dean of the Purdue University School of Pharmacy. An expert in pharmacognosy (the science of medicines from natural sources), he is the author of The Honest Herbal and Herbs of Choice.

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