New research done at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston suggests that ancient Chinese herbal formulas used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may produce large amounts of artery-widening nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is a chemical compound that promotes relaxation in the inner walls of the blood vessels. This allows blood to flow through the circulatory system more easily, the study’s authors explain. It also eliminates dangerous clots, lowers high blood pressure, and reduces artery-clogging plaque formation.
Findings of the preclinical study by research scientists in the University’s Brown Foundation of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM) appeared in the September 15th print issue of the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine.
Not only do these ancient Chinese herbal formulas “have profound nitric oxide bioactivity primarily through the enhancement of nitric oxide in the inner walls of the blood vessels, but also through their ability to convert nitrite and nitrate into nitric oxide,” said Nathan S. Bryan, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and an IMM assistant professor.
Traditional Chinese medicine includes acupuncture and massage, but herbal formulas are a major component. “TCM’s have provided leads to safe medications in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” said C. Thomas Caskey, M.D., IMM Director and CEO. “The opportunity for Dr. Bryan’s work is outstanding given that cardiac disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.”
In this study, scientists performed laboratory tests on the traditional Chinese medicine herbs DanShen, GuaLou, and others to evaluate their ability to produce nitric oxide. The formulas used primarily for cardiovascular indications were made up of three to 25 herbs. The herbs can be administered as tablets, elixirs, soups and teas.
Most Chinese herbal formulas marketed in the United States are not regarded as drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Yong-Jian Geng, M.D., Ph.D, study co-author and cardiology professor at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. They are viewed as dietary supplements and for the time being are not regulated as strictly as drugs.
The authors of the study also stated that they tested the capacity of store-bought TCM’s for the widening of blood vessels in an animal model. “Each of the TCM’s tested in the assays relaxed vessels to various degrees,” the authors stated.
“Further studies should be considered in humans, particularly those with cardiac indications,” Geng said. “Hopefully, we will have more data to report in the near future.”
Ancient Chinese herbal formulas are often considered alternative medicines in Western nations while they are fully integrated into the healthcare systems of parts of Asia. Bryan stated that he thought part of the reason for this may be that, until recently, little was known about how they work.
“The next step is to identify the active components of the TCMs that are responsible for producing the Nitric oxide. We are currently trying to isolate and identify the active component or components,” Bryan said.
Editor’s note: The comments of both Dr. Caskey and Dr. Bryan reveal the real purpose of much current research. Although traditional Chinese herbal formulas have been shown to produce desired effects when used in their entirety, researchers are now on the trail of identifying the active compounds they contain in order to be able to patent them as drugs and rake in huge profits. Natural substances cannot be patented, but isolated compounds from them can.
The herbal formulas of traditional Chinese medicine have been known for thousands of years and are easily available to everyone who is willing to learn about herbs and holistic medicine. They do not involve patents and huge profits.