A. calamus and products derived from A. calamus (such as its oil) were banned in 1968 as food additives and medicines by the United States Food and Drug Administration. This ban was the result of lab studies that involved supplementing the diets of lab animals over a prolonged period of time with massive doses of isolated chemicals (β-asarone) from the Indian Jammu strain of calamus. The animals developed tumors, and the plant was labeled procarcinogenic. Wichtl says "It is not clear whether the observed carcinogenic effects in rats are relevant to the human organism." However, most sources advise caution in ingesting strains other than the diploid strain.
Four varieties of Acorus calamus strains exist in nature; diploid, triploid, tetraploid and hexaploid. Diploids do not produce the procarcinogenic β-asarone. Diploids are known to grow naturally in Eastern Asia (Mongolia and Central Siberian Plateau) and North America. The triploid cytotype probably originated in the Himalayan region, as a hybrid between the diploid and tetraploid cytotypes. The North American Calamus is known as Acorus Calamus var. Americanus or more recently as simply Acorus Americanus. Like the diploid strains of calamus in parts of the Himalayas, Mongolia, and C Siberia, the North American diploid strain does not contain the procarcinogenic β-asarone. Research has consistently demonstrated that "β-asarone was not detectable in the North American spontaneous diploid Acorus ".
In reality β-asarone is not actually a carcinogen but it is a procarcinogen that is neither hepatotoxic nor directly hepatocarcinogenic. It must first undergo metabolic l'-hydroxylation in the liver before achieving toxicity. Cyrochrome P450 in the hepatocytes is responsible for secreting the hydrolyzing enzymes that convert β-asarone into genotoxic epoxide structure. Even with the activation of these metabolites, the carcinogenic potency is very low due to the rapid breakdown of epoxide residues with hydrolase which leaves these compounds inert (Luo, 1992). Additionally, the major metabolite of β-asarone is 2,4,5-trimethoxyninnamic acid, a derivative which is not a carcinogen (Hasheminejad & Caldwell, 1999).
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