Posts Tagged ‘traditional chinese medicine’

The Sour Dating Game

August 22nd, 2010 No comments

Last time, I talked about Suan Zao Ren Tang and mentioned some things about the main ingredient, Suan Zao Ren (Sour Date Seed).  I now present to the reader some excerpts from a 2002 study:

Chen, et al.  Prescriptions of Chinese Herbal Medicines for Insomnia in Taiwan in 2002. eCAM Advance Access published online on April 1, 2009.
eCAM, doi:10.1093/ecam/nep018 (

Let’s go specifically into the part on Suan Zao Ren.

The second most commonly used Chinese herb for subjects with insomnia in our study was Suan-zao-ren (Z. spinosa). It is the chief ingredient in the formula of Suan-zao-ren-tang. In an animal model, Peng et al. (29) reported that Suan-zao-ren had a sedative effect at higher doses and an anxiolytic effect at lower doses. In addition, Zhang et al. (30) indicated that Jujuboside A, one of the components of Suan-zao-ren, produced its sedative–hypnotic effects through effecting the actions of anti-calcium-binding proteins and it inhibited the glutamate-mediated excitatorysignaling pathway in the hippocampus. Jiang et al. (31) also reported that saponins, the main bioactive components of Suan-zao-ren, could prolong the sleeping time induced by barbiturates. In addition, Ma et al. (32) revealed that sanjoinine A, an alkaloid compound of Suan-zao-ren, might regulate GABAergic neurons and further increase the sleeping time and decrease the sleep latency induced by pentobarbital. Notably, there was a case report indicating that Suan-zao-ren could interact with the antidepressant, venlafaxine (Efexor), thereby leading to an acute serotonin reaction (33).

So nice to see that traditional Chinese Medicine is being STUDIED and PROVEN to work.  Here are the research papers cited by Chen et al:

  1. Peng WH, Hsieh MT, Lee YS, Lin YC, Liao J. Anxiolytic effect of seed of Ziziphus jujuba in mouse models of anxiety. J Ethnopharmacol ( 2000;) 72:: 435–41. 
  2. Zhang M, Ning G, Shou C, Lu Y, Hong D, Zheng X. Inhibitory effect of jujuboside A on glutamate-mediated excitatory signal pathway in hippocampus. Planta Med ( 2003;) 69:: 692–5. 
  3. Jiang JG, Huang XJ, Chen J. Separation and purification of saponins from Semen Ziziphus jujuba and their sedative and hypnotic effects. J Pharm Pharmacol ( 2007;) 59:: 1175–80. 
  4. Ma Y, Han H, Eun JS, Kim HC, Hong JT, Oh KW. Sanjoinine A isolated from Zizyphi Spinosi Semen augments pentobarbital-induced sleeping behaviors through the modification of GABA-ergic systems. Biol Pharm Bull ( 2007;) 30:: 1748–53. 
  5. Stewart DE. Venlafaxine and sour date nut. Am J Psychiatry ( 2004;) 161:: 1129–30.

The other herbs in the formula include Chuanxiong, Fuling, Zhimu and Gancao.  The effects of each material seems obvious at first.  From a Chinese pharmacologic point of view, Chuanxiong regulates liver blood and clears blood stasis, Zhu Mu clears deficiency heat and nourishes yin, Gan Cao harmonizes, but what about Fu Ling?  Fu Ling is known for draining dampness, but it should be noted that it enters the Heart meridian as well and thus, has an effect of tranquilizing the mind and calming the spirit.

I had read somewhere that the formula as a whole lowers epinephrine levels, but have yet to find the actual research stating such.

This formula was first noted in Zhang Zhongjing’s “Essentials from the Golden Cabinet”, around 208 AD.  Truly a brilliant man.

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“No Approved Therapeutic Claims” – Food “Supplements” vs Medicine

June 20th, 2010 No comments

A buzz topic now is the translation of the government label “No Approved Therapeutic Claims” into Filipino.  The term “No Approved Therapeutic Claims” was used for “food supplements” – a blanket term for non-big pharma produced products, usually “natural” or “herbal” medicine.

“No Approved Therapeutic Claims” thus means – “the claims of these products are not validated by the BFAD/FDA (Bureau of Food and Drugs, now renamed Food and Drug Administration).  What happens then is I can market a “natural” product as a “food supplement” and not as a medicine and it doesn’t have to go through same research as big pharma products.

The problem on this end is that there is a myriad of lousy products out there.  I am an advocate of Chinese herbal medicine but I am also the first to caution against lousy products that only end up harming the patient and the reputation of Chinese medicine.  in China, you see news about companies being penalized for putting out lousy products.  What about us?

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has good intentions.  We should be protected from bogus products.  I however, do not agree with the new translation for food supplement “warnings”.  I shan’t print the Filipino version here, but I can tell you it means “this product is not medicine and cannot cure any disease.”

This is obviously where I have a beef.

As a Chinese medicine doctor, I cannot agree that just because something is not produced by Big Pharma, it cannot be considered, “medicine.”  The American Heritage Dictionary defines medicine as “An agent, such as a drug, used to treat disease or injury.”  Note, it says an agent, SUCH AS a drug.  This means that there are other agents, while NOT drugs, that can be used to treat disease or injury.

To the Chinese, one of the most important agents are not just food “supplements”, but food itself.

food No Approved Therapeutic Claims   Food Supplements vs MedicineSun Simiao is known as the “Yao Wang” or “King of Medicinals”.  He is famous for a book entitled “Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold”.  Yet here is this important quote from him:

“Doctors should first understand the cause of disease, then treat it with diet. (Herbal) Medicine should only be used if diet fails” – Sun Simiao

Wow, the “King of Medicinals”, famous for life saving herbal prescriptions… recommends DIETARY therapy?!!  Good luck hearing that from Big Pharma.

Patented pills quack 600 No Approved Therapeutic Claims   Food Supplements vs Medicine

Unfortunately this applies to "herbal medicine" product hawkers also. Image by Mike Adams.

Anyway my final thoughts are these:

1) We should not put down the idea of “food as medicine” as it is actually more effective for a lot of common, everyday problems.

2) The Chinese have this down to a science and I’ll be darned  - the stuff works.  Click for more info.

3) At the same time, a lot of food supplement products out there are just bunk.  Better not to rely on products made by people who just want your money.  Do your homework.  Pick a tradition of diet therapy (western, Chinese, whatever) and stick to it.

4) Don’t think that one herb or one fruit or one vegetable will solve all your ills.  Make lifestyle adjustments as well.

Now I’m off to get a nice porridge breakfast.  Be well!

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Healing Wounds of the Psyche

March 17th, 2010 No comments

There’s this phenomenon called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A pilot study funded by the National Institutes of Health suggest Acupuncture may be of use for it.  Again, this is something that Chinese medicine practitioners have known for quite a while now.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s Website (, PSTD can be defined as “…an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.”  Kinda like watching the 3-D version of Avatar without 3-D glasses.  Not like I’ve tried.

The website has a great way of explaining the situation to laymen:

When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

So people reading the newspapers everyday have PTSD?  I mean they feel stressed and frightened despite not being in immediate danger…  Seriously though, I’ve heard stories of people having recurring nightmares because of this.

Soldiers 300x199 Healing Wounds of the Psyche

Soldiers may go home with their bodies healed, but their psyches scarred.

So what exactly does Post Traumatic Stress Disorder mean clinically?

PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there is such a notion as a vicious cycle caused by severe, sudden emotions.  These affect certain organs, which in turn increase our susceptibility to the aforementioned emotions.  For example, frustration upsets the Liver, causing Qi stagnation, which leads to a greater tendency to feel anger or frustration – a vicious cycle.  Sometimes, the person is able to correct this on their own – as evidenced by healing after a time.  Sometimes, it gets stuck.  Chinese medicine works by breaking that cycle.

Let’s look at the study: (from

Acupuncture May Help Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

A pilot study shows that acupuncture may help people with posttraumatic stress disorder. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

Can it treat my stress secondary to watching Knicks games?  That’s very terrifying these days, and will be more so if we don’t get any free agents this summer…

Anyway here’s the gist:

Michael Hollifield, M.D., and colleagues conducted a clinical trial examining the effect of acupuncture on the symptoms of PTSD. The researchers analyzed depression, anxiety, and impairment in 73 people with a diagnosis of PTSD. The participants were assigned to receive either acupuncture or group cognitive-behavioral therapy over 12 weeks, or were assigned to a wait-list as part of the control group. The people in the control group were offered treatment or referral for treatment at the end of their participation.

And the results?

The researchers found that acupuncture provided treatment effects similar to group cognitive-behavioral therapy; both interventions were superior to the control group. Additionally, treatment effects of both the acupuncture and the group therapy were maintained for 3 months after the end of treatment.

The limitations of the study are consistent with preliminary research. For example, this study had a small group of participants that lacked diversity, and the results do not account for outside factors that may have affected the treatments’ results.

The abstract may be found here: (

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the potential efficacy and acceptability of accupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People diagnosed with PTSD were randomized to either an empirically developed accupuncture treatment (ACU), a group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or a wait-list control (WLC). The primary outcome measure was self-reported PTSD symptoms at baseline, end treatment, and 3-month follow-up. Repeated measures MANOVA was used to detect predicted Group X Time effects in both intent-to-treat (ITT) and treatment completion models. Compared with the WLC condition in the ITT model, accupuncture provided large treatment effects for PTSD (F [1, 46] = 12.60; p < 0.01; Cohen’s d = 1.29), similar in magnitude to group CBT (F [1, 47] = 12.45; p < 0.01; d = 1.42) (ACU vs. CBT, d = 0.29). Symptom reductions at end treatment were maintained at 3-month follow-up for both interventions. Accupuncture may be an efficacious and acceptable nonexposure treatment option for PTSD. Larger trials with additional controls and methods are warranted to replicate and extend these findings.

Right, I’ll re-read the layman version.

Here’s the reference:

Michael Hollifield, Nityamo Sinclair-Lian, Teddy D. Warner, and Richard Hammerschlag, “Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, June 2007.

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Ginseng and It’s Anti-Inflammatory Properties

November 1st, 2009 2 comments

From ( posted October 30, 2009.

According to the results of a new study, the herb ginseng—which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia—may be a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

The news comes from the University of Hong Kong where scientists isolated seven ginseng compounds, called ginsenosides, which they say show strong immune-suppressive effects.

Using human immune cells, which they treated with extracts of ginseng, they discovered the seven ginsenosides had the ability to selectively inhibit expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10.

Allan Lau, lead researcher on the team, says the beneficial effects of ginseng may result from the combined effects of ginsenosides which appear to target different levels of immunological activity.

However, he added that “further studies will be needed to examine the potential beneficial effects of [the herb] in the management of acute and chronic inflammatory diseases in humans.”

Ginseng is a perennial fleshy plant native to cooler climates of eastern Asia, including northern China, Korea and eastern Siberia. Extracts and nutritional supplements containing ginseng are available in many health stores across the U.S.

Now for my usual commentary.  The article speaks pretty much for itself, but is missing a few crucial pieces of information:

Firstly, people should know that siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng in that it does not contain the said ginsenosides.  It has a similar range of function to true ginseng but was only called a ginseng as a marketing tactic.

Secondly, American ginseng, while a true ginseng, has a slightly cooling nature compared to chinese and korean ginseng.  What does this mean? It means that it is more suitable for warm climates as too much “heat” inducing foods and herbs will be detrimental to one already constantly exposed to heat.  Hence, in my native Philippines, I believe that american ginseng is more suitable.  That is, unless the patient also has pathogenic cold that requires heat to counter it.

ginseng 300x225 Ginseng and Its Anti Inflammatory Properties

Ginseng Root

Thirdly, while this stuff is beneficial AND can be taken by itself, it is still OVERDOSEABLE (if there is such a word).  In the Philippine General Hospital, I have heard some cases of people taking too much Korean Red Ginseng (VERY firey, see statement two…) and ending up with Kidney failure.  From a TCM point of view this makes perfect sense – too much fire consumes the water (kidneys).  Hence, we should NOT tolerate the idea that “supplements” are not drugs and are thus safe or that herbal medicines are natural and hence there is no such thing as an overdose.

And fourthly, look at the Ginseng root.  It is called renshen (man root) in chinese because it looks like a human being with hands and feet .

And Happy All Saints’ Day!


Personal Liberty News Desk. “Research Uncovers Anti-inflammatory Properties Of Ginseng” 30 October 2009.  accessed 1 November 2009 <>

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