Monthly Archives: October 2013

October 30, 2013 In Herbal Research

Clinical trials

Habb-e-Asgand (an antirheumatic polyherbal Unani formulation): clinical trial (PubMed)

Jitai tablets for heroin addiction: clinical trial (PubMed)

systematic Review

Gymnema sylvestre in obesity and diabetes management: systematic review PubMed

Traditional medical systems

Kampo medicine for gastrointestinal disorders: review of basic science and clinical evidence (PubMed)

individual Constituents

Arctigenin (a compound from Arctium lappa) possesses anti-angiogenic activity (PubMed)

Damnacanthal (a compound from noni [Morinda citrifolia] fruit): review (PubMed)

Tanshinone IIA acts on cervical cancer cells (PubMed)

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October 29, 2013 In Herbal Research

Reviews

Arbuscular mycorrhiza and its influence on the constituent profile of plants (PubMed)

Hepatotoxicity of herbs: preexisting conditions may affect the quality of the data (PubMed)

Intestinal absorption and bioavailability of traditional Chinese herbal medicines: a review of methods of analysis (PubMed)

studies on individual botanicals

Hypnea musciformis (red algae): anti-inflammatory effect (PubMed)

Polygala cyparissias: gastroprotection (PubMed)

Selaginella tamariscina: antidiabetic, antihyperlipidaemic and antioxidant activity (PubMed)

individual Constituents

Berberine: jejunal motility (PubMed)

Flavonoids: cardioprotection (PubMed)

Rosmarinic acid: diabetes-induced vascular dysfunction (PubMed)

Ethnobotanical Surveys

Australian aboriginal medicine (PubMed) (free article)

October 27, 2013 In Herbal Research

Reviews

Cannabis (PubMed)

Jamaican pepper (Pimenta dioica) and allspice (PubMed)

studies on individual botanicals

Three Indian herbs – Potentilla fulgens, Alpinia nigra and Millettia pachycarpa – possess antiparasitic activity against Raillietina echinobothrida (PubMed).

Nepodin – a compound from yellow dock (Rumex crispus) – has antimalarial activity (PubMed).

New compounds identified from turnip (Brassica rapa) (PubMed).

October 26, 2013 In Herbal Research

Clinical trials

Stir-fried white pepper was as effective for treating chronic diarrhea and more effective than montmorillonite powder for acute and persistent diarrhea in children under 2.5 years (PubMed).

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – 35% extract, topically applied to a 12-cm area three times daily for 5 days – was found effective and superior to placebo and methyl nicotinate for acute upper or lower back pain (PubMed).

Special appearances

Hemidesmus indicus (Indian sarsaparilla) (PubMedPubMed)

Symphytum officinale (comfrey) (PubMed, PubMed)

Reviews

Cynomorium (PubMed)

Hemidesmus indicus (Indian sarsaparilla) (PubMed)

Hyptis verticillata (PubMed)

Rhododenron (PubMed)

Symphytum officinale (comfrey) (PubMed)

Herb Combinations

Aconitum carmichaelii (aconite, fuzi) and Glycyrrhiza sp. (licorice) (PubMed)

Dingchuan decoction (ScienceDirect)

Traditional Therapies

Herbal vapour therapy (PubMed)

Turmeric: The Spice That Extends Life

Turmeric, the spice with miraculous health benefits

Photo by Sanjay Acharya

Curcumin, a widely studied compound from turmeric, has been proven to possess anti-aging qualities

Apart from a multitude of potential benefits, extensively covered in modern research, a recent review by Chinese researchers summarizes the current evidence on the potential of curcumin (one of the bioactive compounds in the spice turmeric) to prolong life. So far, curcumin has been used on three primary model organisms that scientists use to study aging – roundworm, fruit fly, and mouse – and showed promising results in all of them.

Curcumin is an antioxidant and acts on the genetic level

The effects of curcumin are partially related to its own antioxidant activity (it is a well-known theory that oxidative stress is linked to aging). However, as it is being increasingly established for many plant compounds – not just curcumin – plain “antioxidant” does not even come close to describing the full powers of plants. It turns out that many substances found in herbs have a much more profound effect on our bodies: as reported by a group of Taiwanese researchers, 1,170 of the 3,294 Chinese medicinal herbs studied were found to interact with histones – special proteins that participate in unravelling the DNA, essentially enabling genes to be turned on or off. This is as close as it can get to direct influence on our genetics, without getting into mutations (which, typically, are not a good thing).

Multiple genes are affected by curcumin

In the case of curcumin and aging, according to the review, curcumin upregulated a host of aging-related genes, such as dInR, ATTD, Def, CecB, DptB, FOXO, and Sir2, in addition to enhancing the expression of the gene coding superoxide dismutase – a critical enzyme in the cell’s own antioxidant defense system. And – here comes the real confirmation! – mice fed curcumin as part of their daily diet lived significantly longer, compared to their counterparts who were not receiving curcumin.

Curcumin prevents fat oxidation

Curcumin administration to the fruit fly also resulted in reduced levels of molecules that indicate fat oxidation.

Multiple potential benefits of turmeric and curcumin to human health

Although this still does not prove that the same results can be achieved in humans, it provides sufficient evidence to at least consider adding turmeric – the main natural source of curcumin, which is perceived by most scientists to be incredibly safe – to the list of items you consume daily. Apart from the potential anti-aging effects, either turmeric or its bioactive constituent curcumin have been shown to possess a host of other potential and proven benefits – from reducing blood lipid levels and possessing antidepressant activity to fighting cancer, memory decline (1, 2, 3)  and diabetes.

If you don’t include turmeric into your diet, perhaps it is time to start now!

Turmeric: Not Just Curcumin!

Curcumin

Most people with even a basic knowledge of herbal medicine will tell you that the activity of an herb can not (or should not) be reduced to the activity of just one substance. However, the research on curcumin – considered the “primary bioactive component” of the famous spice turmeric – is so seductive that many people in the natural health crowd have started associating turmeric root mainly with that one particular compound.

[Note: The highlighted numbers below link to abstracts in PubMed.]

However, as one group of researchers pointed out, curcumin-free turmeric still possesses remarkable bioactivity (23847105). According to them, this bioactivity can further be traced to other chemical compounds in turmeric, such as turmerin, turmerone, elemene, furanodiene, curdione, bisacurone, cyclocurcumin, calebin A, and germacrone. In another study, a total of 19 antitumor constituents of turmeric were identified (24079186). Other researchers also mentioned β-elemene, δ-elemene, furanodienone, and curcumol (22820242). Many of these are constituents of turmeric’s volatile oil, i.e., they are associated with the aroma of turmeric, and their content is severely reduced in dry turmeric, which is the most familiar form of this herb to most people. Nevertheless, some studies are available on these individual compounds, which may enlighten us to the action of the whole herb, rather than just the highly concentrated fraction of curcuminoids.

[Update: A new study reports that curcuminoid- and oil-free turmeric extract possesses significant antiinflammatory activity (24454348).] Continue reading

The Alchemy Of Curcumin

Turmeric, the golden spice

Photo by Badagnani

Curcumin’s differential effects on healthy vs. cancer cells may be due to its interaction with metals

One of the most intriguing findings of the modern scientific research of herbal medicine is the finding that plants’ actions may vary depending on the condition of the organism. For example, Echinacea will stimulate the immune system in the condition of the disease, but tone down the pro-inflammatory effect (hence the term “immunomodulators”). Compounds from American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) will kill cancer cells but “not touch” normal cells. Similarly, curcumin is known for its differential activity towards healthy vs. cancer cells.

The “magical” interaction of curcumin with metals

This fascinating article points to the theory that such differential action might be due to the interactions between the plant substances and metals. Apparently, it is a well-known fact that many disease sites (especially those of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease) are associated with increased concentrations of certain metals – called transition metals, such as copper, zinc, and iron. This is the property that curcumin seems to interact with: In the normal cellular environment, it acts as an antioxidant; while surrounded by high levels of metals in a different-than-normal oxidation state, it turns into a rabid reactive oxygen species producer.

The ancients may have been on to something!

This leads to some interesting conlusions: First of all, the rishi, to whom the origins of Ayurvedic medicine are usually ascribed, may have been onto something with their use of metals in Ayurvedic formulas. Could they have discovered – empricially or otherwise – that metals interact with herbs’ activities in some way?

And also, this makes me amazed once again at the time we are living in: that of the crossroads of traditional knowledge and modern science.

Ayahuasca: Adverse Events Evaluation

A recent review has evaluated the existing evidence of adverse reactions to ayahuasca – a hallucinogenic brew, used for religious or medicinal purposes, traditionally from the Northwestern Amazon region. The assessment of reports of severe intoxications due to the intake of ayahuasca or its alkaloids suggests that most cases can be traced back to pre-existing hepatic or cardiac conditions and/or concomitant use of other serotonergic drugs/medications; and that caution should be exercised with the use of botanical species not traditionally used or synthetic analogues of the alkaloids contained in ayahuasca.