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Black pepper ( Piper nigrum ) is native to India and other southeastern Asian countries. Black pepper, white pepper, green pepper, pink pepper, and red pepper are all differently preserved berries or seeds of the Piper nigrum plant. Although black pepper has been used as a spice for millennia, it has also traditionally been used in India to treat diarrhea. In the Ayurvedic tradition, a preparation called Trikatu (black pepper, long pepper, and ginger) is prescribed routinely for a variety of diseases. Recent laboratory studies indicate that black pepper may also be beneficial in pain and Alzheimer's disease. In clinical trials, inhalation of black pepper oil improved withdrawal symptoms of cigarette smoking and the ability to swallow in post-stroke patients. Ingestion of black pepper may cause dyspepsia (upset stomach) and other gastrointestinal adverse effects. Inhalation of black pepper has caused respiratory irritation, edema, and even respiratory arrest, severe anoxia, and death. There may also be a link between ingestion of black pepper and nasopharyngeal or esophageal cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved black pepper, black pepper oil, black pepper oleoresin, piperidine, and piperine as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use in foods in the United States.
Astragalus products are derived from the roots of Astragalus membranaceus or related species, which are native to China. In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is commonly found in mixtures with other herbs, and is used in the treatment of numerous ailments, including heart, liver, and kidney diseases, as well as cancer, viral infections, and immune system disorders. Western herbalists began using astragalus in the 1800s as an ingredient in various tonics. The use of astragalus became popular in the 1980s based on theories about anti-cancer properties, although these proposed effects have not been clearly demonstrated in reliable human studies. Some medicinal uses of astragalus are based on its proposed immune stimulatory properties, reported in preliminary laboratory and animal experiments, but not conclusively demonstrated in humans. Most astragalus research has been conducted in China, and has not been well designed or reported. Gummy sap (tragacanth) from astragalus is used as a thickener in ice cream, an emulsifier, a denture adhesive, and an anti-diarrheal agent.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland from the amino acid tryptophan. The synthesis and release of melatonin are stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, suggesting the involvement of melatonin in circadian rhythm and regulation of diverse body functions. Levels of melatonin in the blood are highest prior to bedtime. Synthetic melatonin supplements have been used for a variety of medical conditions, most notably for disorders related to sleep. Melatonin possesses antioxidant activity, and many of its proposed therapeutic or preventive uses are based on this property. New drugs that block the effects of melatonin are in development, such as BMS-214778 or luzindole, and may have uses in various disorders.