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What is Heloderma?

By N. Phipps
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Heloderma is the genus name for the only two venomous lizards in the world, the Mexican beaded lizard (H. horridum) and the Gila monster (H. suspectum). These lizards are native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. The term heloderm means studded skin, as each of these lizards has skin that consists of several small, bone-like beads or studs.

Each lizard also produces poisonous venom. When they bite, the lizards will typically hold onto their prey, or victim. The longer the lizard holds on or the more irritated it is, the more saliva it produces. Thus, a greater amount of heloderma venom will be injected into the wound.

Although their bite is rarely life-threatening to humans, with the exception of small children, it may cause severe pain, edema, bleeding, nausea, and vomiting. The pain following a bite can last hours, and weakness in the area may persist for several days. Rare complications can occur in some people and may include shock, heart attack, allergic reactions, and heavy bleeding. A prolonged heloderma bite received by a child could actually result in death.

Heloderma venom has been found to exhibit some medicinal promise. In fact, the venom has been studied as far back as 1891. Scientists have been studying the effects of the venom extract and have even produced medicinal powders from it. The venom is also available in pellet and liquid forms as well as a tincture. These remedies are only available through a valid prescription from a qualified practitioner.

Homeopathically, heloderma venom is used to treat diseases that are often characterized by coldness. It has been used in treating various nervous diseases and seen as a possible remedy for certain forms of paralysis. During World War I, some German doctors used the venom to treat degenerative diseases of the nervous system.

A recent medical breakthrough in the treatment of both Type I and Type II diabetes has been discovered. A synthetic version of a chemical compound found in the saliva of the Gila monster, called exenatide, is now being used to help control high blood sugar in Type II diabetes. This substance improves metabolic control, suppressing the rise in blood glucose levels and stimulating insulin secretion. So far clinical studies have shown that exenatide is safe and tolerable for most people. Mild to moderate nausea and vomiting have been the most commonly reported complaints.

Remedies of this venom extract are given in low doses. Heloderma extract has also been used in association with weight loss. In addition, it may be used as an ingredient in some types of anti-inflammatory creams. These are normally used externally for the relief of pain associated with arthritis, repetitive injuries, sprains, and lower back pain. Other recent uses include the treatment of manic depression, aggression, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis.

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