Introduction to Cryptolepis
Nature’s Antibiotic Root
By Conrad Richter
|Wild cryptolepis vine growing along the ground in a field.|
Cryptolepis sanguinolenta is a bitter root long used in West Africa for the treatment of fevers, especially those caused by malaria . It is an aggressive climbing vine found throughout West Africa, mainly from Senegal to Nigeria . In Ghana, where Richters has established a test farm, it is endemic to the central regions of the country. Although wild populations are not yet threatened, demand for the roots is high and supplies are tightening. Cultivation will be necessary in the future .
Research studies show that the root, and its main active constituent, the alkaloid cryptolepine, do indeed have potent antimalarial activity   .
But cryptolepis and cryptolepine have much broader antibiotic properties. They are known  to be antifungal, antibacterial, and antiamoebic, and there is early evidence that cryptolepine may be antiviral  . They are effective against many resistant strains of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) . As well, cryptolepine has potent anticancer activity  and has been shown to arrest melanoma in animals . The dried roots possess up to 3% cryptolepine by weight . The pharmacological properties of cryptolepine explain many of the traditional uses of the root .
Traditionally the roots are boiled in water and taken at the direction of a herbalist. Homemade alcoholic herbal tonic drinks are also made with the roots and served as a social drink among men.
|Dried cryptolepis roots.|
In recent decades cryptolepis has been used to treat North American tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis. Although there is no history of use of cryptolepis for these diseases, American herbalist Stephen Buhner has found that it is a useful tool in his herbal Lyme treatment toolkit . A recent study  has provided backing for this idea, showing that the root extract is highly effective against Borrelia burgdorferi, the main bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Not only is it effective during the initial exponential growth phase following infection, it is effective during a harder-to-treat stationary phase when the bacterium probably lays down a biofilm  that resists conventional antibiotics . This harder-to-treat phase may account for the chronic or recurrent forms of the disease that patients often experience.
Studies on the effects of cryptolepis on fertility and live birth rates in animals suggest that the herb should not be used during pregnancy . But its centuries-long history of human use suggests that it is otherwise safe to use. A “generally safe” dose of the root extract is below 500 mg of root per kg of body weight  . For Lyme disease and its coinfections, Stephen Buhner recommends a 1:5 tincture of the dried roots at a dose of 5 mL taken three times daily for 10 days, a regimen he says can be repeated once as necessary . Dr Marty Ross, a doctor with a special interest in the treatment of Lyme disease, suggests the same regimen but does not specify a time limit . He calls the herb his “go to” herbal treatment for babesiosis, a common coinfection of Lyme disease that is caused by the malaria-like Babesia parasite .
The potential of cryptolepis is enormous. Medical and scientific attention is quickening, and interest in it as a herbal remedy is spreading worldwide.
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