Another rising star in the Chinese herb medicine cabinet – This time for swine flu

Star Anise fresh and driedThe Star Anise, Illicium verum  or Ba Jiao Hui Xiang has been used as a spice and medicine since antiquity.  Star Anise is used dried and the seeds have a licorice-like flavor. It’s commonly  sold in supermarkets and often used in Chinese cuisine to flavor duck dishes. ( I used it once in my Thanksgiving turkey, it was a hit)   It’s also  contains the active chemical component in the drug Tamiflu, which is now being stockpiled as a defense against the Swine flu.

Star anise was originally in the spotlight  because it’s core ingredient  was discovered effective as a flu fighter for the Avian flu. Now it’s being touted for the swine flu.  In an  announcement in Feb 2006 from  the University of Tokyo’s Graduate school of Pharmaceutical sciences,  they “ found a way to make Tamiflu without using shikimic acid, which is produced from a spice called star anise”  The acid is extracted from the pods which wraps the seeds by using a petrochemical ingredient instead of the plant based ingredient.  The group, headed by Prof. Masakatsu Shibasaki said the new method would ensure the stable supply of the antiviral drug in the face of surging demand worldwide prompted by fears of a bird flu (AVAIN) outbreak.  Although many believe the best  way to produce shikimic acid is extracting it directly from the fruit.

“It (Tamiflu) doesn’t prevent the infection,  but may decrease its’ severity,” (although there is no scientific data it will prevent H1N1) according to the Tamiflu website.  Tamiflu has been on the market since Oct. 1999 and Roche probably never dreamed that this years orders would top 220 million.  In the first  three years Tamiflu was on the market only 5.5 million doses sold.

Other  information from the Tamiflu website said this:  “Influenza viruses change over time. Emergence of resistance mutations could decrease drug effectiveness.  Other factors (for example changes in viral virulence) might also diminish clinical benefit of antiviral drugs. Prescribers should consider available information on influenza drug susceptibility patterns and treatment effects when deciding whether to use Tamiflu.” (line 155),   It continues elsewhere on the site with this,  “Efficacy of  Tamiflu in patients who begin treatment after 40 hours of symptoms has not been established” and “ Safety & efficacy of Tamiflu in pediatric patients younger than 1 year has not been studied.”

Star anise sells for aprox. $5.00  or less for a few ounces.  The best source I found said a dose of Tamiflu contains the equivalent of approximately 13 grams of star anise. That’s a few cents per dose.  Studies on guinea pigs yielded evidence that star anise essential oil had a relaxant effect, antispasmodic  and bronchodilatory effect on muscarinic receptors. People have  traditionally used star anise to reduces gas, relieve minor digestive problems, for headaches  and even to promote vitality.

If your interested in drinking star anise as a tea, a typical dose is .5-1 gram of  coarsely ground seeds. Cooked at a slow boil (covered) in 2 ½ cups water for a aprox. 30 minutes  and then strained. Ground star anise has been traditionally taken in a dose of 3 grams daily. The essential oil of star anise in a dose of 300 milligrams daily has also been reported.  The Food and Drug Administration lists star anise as “generally safe for otherwise healthy adults who are not pregnant, nursing or have a preexisting allergy to the herb.”  I hope the swine flu fades quietly into oblivion like the Avain flu.  Who knows  what will happen once weather changes in the fall and winter when flu season is upon us.  In any case, if your considering a dose of Tamiflu your armed with some knowledge.  Most importantly keep your immune system as strong as possible to avoid any future viruses that abound and remember  grocery store shelves can be very beneficial when you know how to shop.

The difference of government responses to H1N1, the Swine flu

H1N1 has been declared a pandemic by WHO  (World Health Organization) and many of us seem to know someone who’s already had the swine flu. WHO

I just heard from a friend  that a cabin full of  12 year old campers were quarantined to their cabin as a result of the swine flu.  Now that were getting more comfortable with the first pandemic in our life time, I want to explore the differences  in responses from the two most powerful governments in the world, the Chinese and the American.

The U.S. official government response  at time of publishing is this:  a state of emergency has been declared and well known pharmaceuticals  such as Sanofi-Aventis,  Novartis, Baxter, GlaxoSmithKline and Solvay  are all  in the process of creating test batches of  vaccines.  Government websites are to report updates within 24 hours once new information is released, unfortunately this rarely happens.   Not very reassuring considering our elected representatives are currently debating health care reform.

The United States Food & Drug Association, FDA, on one hand has given authorization  for use of “unapproved or uncleared” medical products (Relenza & Tamiflu Anti-virals) following this declaration of emergency.  On the other hand, FDA has sent out warning letters to websites to cease the selling  of any product or making any claims about how to prevent and treat the Swine Flu.  I would define this as an aggressive approach   I’m in favor of cracking down on websites that scam the public but since neither Tamiflu or Relenza have proven effectiveness or  have a scientific basis for this new viral strain, how is that any different from selling a homeopathic product, supplement, air purifier, surgical mask etc etc. that also has no scientific data behind it?   This virus strain has never been seen before. How do we know what is the best cure.  Will we really need any medicinal at all?  For most people a few days  of  bed rest is the  cure.  The camp kids are just fine by the way.  The official statement from U.S. Centers for Disease Control says “the majority of people infected with the virus make a full recovery without requiring medical attention or antiviral drugs.”

The Chinese Government has taken a different approach to the H1N1 virus. China is also in the midst of searching for a vaccine and is currently  in the testing phase. China is expanding  it’s capacity for  vaccine manufacturing and  government sources say  “by the end of this year we may produce the amount necessary for 5 percent of the worlds population”.  But the Chinese government has gone beyond the vaccine route. The government has also allocated  nearly 1.5 million dollars (equivalent)  to research  Traditional Chinese Medicine in regards to H1N1.   Four million will be spent on clinical test and the rest on laboratory research for a combination of Chinese herbs that  will best prevent and treat H1N1.  Presently,  China is reporting 1537 confirmed cases of H1N1 and no fatalities.  This is the same government that dealt with a SAR epidemic not to long ago, for which a Chinese herb formula was found successful in treating.

Interestingly, along with this theme, the European Union has  just granted 1 million euros for ground breaking research  for a project entitled “Good Practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine Research in the Post-Genomic Era.”  “Researchers at Kings College in London will review the current status of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) research, identify problems and propose solutions by applying modern methods of investigation as well as providing a forum for the exchange of opinions, experience and expertise among scientists in the EU and China.”

The road map to prevention and cure for this emerging pandemic is being written as we speak. I would like to see the integration of Western and Chinese approaches to medicinal therapies for H1N1,  how about you?   Which direction should our government lead us or should the medical community take the lead rather than the pharmaceutical companies.  I look forward to your comments.

A High Price for Deer Antler and for Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine

A family trip to Alaska, a lot of time in a van and unexpected lessons on deer antler aka Lu Rong. 

On a family trip to Alaska, we quickly learned Alaska is too big for road trips. However, we did see the most incredible scenery and enjoyed some off the beaten path family activities.  An ingrained family tradition. As the planner of the trip, I decide the family must pay a visit to a reindeer farm just north of Anchorage. Our teens had their i-pods and they are accustom to my crazy ideas of fun, so off we went on the 5 hour round trip drive.  Admittedly, I had an ulterior motive, I wanted to learn about Lu Rong, deer antlers, from a true source, and this was a golden opportunity I couldn’t miss.

In Chinese Medicine, the deer antler also known as Lu Rong is a prized and highly sought after commodity.  Deer antler has been used for hundreds of years for health and  longevity and is considered a yang tonic in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Reindeer antlers our one source of antlers  however much more commonly used is the smaller breed of Red Deer.  Today the most expensive deer antler is harvested in New Zealand  but Alaska is also a source and prices range anywhere from $100.00 for a 100 gram bottle of  granules to $500.00,  quality can vary widely. I admit, a small ulterior motive, I was investigating whether  importing deer antler might become part of my herb business.

Chinese medicine antlers

Wow, I had no idea the antlers were so sensitive.  In fact, males who commonly fight each other will not touch one another while their antlers are in velvet, a growth stage named for the velvet like fur on the antlers. There is a tremendous amount of blood flow to the antlers which supports this growth and there is a correlation between the head being the most Yang part of the body, the antlers growing from the top of the head  and deer antlers categorized  as a yang tonic. Eskimos have used deer antler soup for it’s internal warming (yang) properties for as long as anyone can document.

 

We arrived at the reindeer farm which was operated by a family (and some hired help), mainly for the purposes of selling reindeer meat. The tourist business is a summer sideline. We paid a small entrance fee and along with two other families with young children were given instructions before we were allowed to enter the main pen and hand feed the reindeer some supplied food. I knew that deer are very skittish, nervous animals by nature and easily startled, but what else I learned was surprising. The number one rule was no touching the antlers of any animal that is “in velvet”.  The reason was simple. The antlers are extremely sensitive when they are growing and just touching the velvety soft exterior, especially at the tips, could freak out the animal and be dangerous for us. We could pet the deer anywhere else exception being, the antlers.

What else I learned; deer antlers, whether reindeer or red deer are not so easy to harvest.  It would seem harmless to saw them off once they are essentially dead and have no more blood flow.  The antlers die naturally every year and either fall off or are broken when the deer fight.  But, deer antlers are harvested when there is still blood flow to them, best when the tips are still rounded which means they are still growing.  Our guides explained they would never harvest antlers while in velvet because it would be like cutting off one of your fingers.  The antler is truly an limb extension of the animal. If  just touching an antler can make the deer skittish what do you thinking cutting off an antler would do to the deer?  Extremely painful to say the least.

This was the moment I decided no matter how much can be earned from deer antlers I could never be part of that industry. If the antlers were used once they are naturally shed by the animals, that would be different.  But by the time the antlers are naturally falling off they are dead, no blood flow no nerve endings. No medicinal value.

To be fair,  I am told  that many people who raise deer exclusively for their antlers as a Chinese medicinal, use a veterinarian to perform the sawing off operation.  Some say they tranquilize the animals and/or provide Novocain. Once the antlers are cut the deer’s head is wrapped in bandages and something is given to reduce the bleeding at the site. Antlers are always harvested when they are at the height of the growth stage. If you have ever seen slices of deer antler the highest grade are red in the middle, from the blood flow. Regardless, once I spent just a few minutes with these beautiful docile creatures, I knew I didn’t want any part of an industry initiating animal cruelty. Yang tonics are great strong medicine.  Chinese Herbal Medicine has plenty of  plant based yang tonics, no animal products would ever be part of Pacific Herbs.

Stop Painful Menstrual Cramps with Chinese Herbs

herbs for pmsLately this is my favorite topic and formula to make in my herb granule pharmacy .. because  the calls I receive go something like this.  “I took it once & I’m off the couch and back to normal”,  “I can’t believe those herbs work”,  “Why didn’t you tell me before”, “I didn’t take a single motrin this month”,  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  So here’s some information about the herbs in the Pacific Herbs PMS Relief Herb Pack & some interesting information on well conducted research on menstrual pain. 

Don’t mask the pain with NSAID’s  try an approach that’s worked for centuries, Chinese Herbal Medicine.  An international nonprofit organization, known as the Cochrane Collaboration, studied the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in relieving menstrual pain compared to western drugs.  Their conclusion:  “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhea roughly doubled pain relief and improvement in overall symptoms compared with conventional Western pharmaceuticals.”

Here are a few common Chinese herbs used for painful menstrual cramps, ( All our in our formula plus more)

1. Dong Gui (Chinese Angelica  or Angelica Sinensis) Also known as the “female ginseng,” it is commonly used to regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve menstrual cramps.  It also helps to relieve menopausal symptoms, reduce PMS and anemia and to re-establish a menstrual cycle after cessation of birth control pills.  It is commonly sold as a single herb tea, bagged or loose.  It is considered a king herb or premier herb in Chinese gynecological disease because of its ability to harmonize the blood in Chinese medicine.  Dong Gui is also considered antispasmodic.  The coumarin chemicals present in this herb may help dilate blood vessels and relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramping.

2. Chuan Xiong (Chuanxiong  Rhizoma) This herb is also a key medicinal herb for treating pain.  It improves blood circulation and promotes the flow of “qi” or vital energy.  Chinese women, dating back to the Song Dynasty, used to take this Chinese herb in the form of soup.  The soup is called a Four Substance Decoction and includes three other herbs:  angelica, red peony and Chinese foxglove.  The soup and tea are still used today as a blood tonic to relieve PMS, stop menstrual pain and improve overall health, especially after giving birth.

3. Bai Shao (White Peony Root) White Peony Root nourishes the blood and improves circulation.  It is also used for a wide variety of gynecological problems.  The peony root is considered a   liver tonic in Chinese medicine.  By strengthening the liver, it helps to increase the efficiency of protein and fat metabolism, thus inhibiting the excessive synthesis of prostaglandins that may cause an over-active uterus and endometrial pain.

4. Yi Mu Cao (Chinese Motherwort) Leaves from this herb are used to treat menstrual problems.  They have been shown to improve blood circulation and clear blood clots that occur in menstrual disorders and after childbirth.  The leaves also promote diuresis and relieve edema.  Studies on the alkaloid leonurine showed that this substance stimulates the uterus of rabbits, cats, dogs and guinea pigs.2

5. Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome) There are two main functions of this Chinese herb:  to strengthen blood circulation and to relieve pain.  In conjunction with chuan xiong it is known to help both body aches and headaches.  Corydalis is related to the opium poppy.  Although only 1% in strength compared to opium, it is a very effective pain reliever.  The active chemical constituent di- tetrahydropalmatine (THP) is a neuroactive alkaloid with analgesic action that relieves cramping pain. Formulas or groups of Chinese herbs are more beneficial than single herb remedies because the herbs work synergistically for conditions such as menstrual cramps.  The Cochran study also stated that:  “The herbal remedies were also significantly better at relieving painful cramps and other symptoms than acupuncture or a hot water bottle, with overall promising finding.  Chinese herbs overall, whether standardized or tailored, yielded better pain relief than conventional pharmaceutical therapies.” Chinese herbal medicine can be a bit intimidating when you don’t know anything about these herbs, and the five herbs above are only a few of the herbs beneficial for menstrual cramps in the Chinese herbal encyclopedias.  Asian pharmacies sell prescriptions of herbal teas and pills daily, and Asian cultures have used herbs successfully for hundreds of years. 

By replacing NSAIDs with Chinese herbs, women receive an additional benefit of avoiding the nasty NSAID3 side effects such as upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers and rashes, and liver damage, to name a few.  Women don’t need to suffer month after month.  You can use Chinese herb supplements to be pain free and PMS symptom free all month long.

Check the research for yourself: Primary source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Source; Zhu X, et al “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007;3: CD005288.

  1. Chinese Medicine Program at the University of Western Sydney.1 (fourth issue for 2007 of The Cochrane Library)

2.  Yin, J. Modern Research and Clinical Application of Chinese  Materia Medica (2) pp 218-219 Beijing: Chinese  Medical Classic Press.

NSAID are Non-Sterodial Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.  Generics and name brands include:  ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, naproxen sodium, Aleve, aspirin, Bayer, Bufferin, acetaminophen, and Tylenol.

Malaria and how Chinese Medicine is Advancing Science

microscope for malariaIn case you haven’t already heard, today is World Malaria Day,
April 25th, 2009.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Malaria Day than to write  on a Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb and it’s benefits for  malaria. Ok, I know most of us in the west don’t know much or maybe anything about this disease. Some may even be thinking… isn’t malaria one of those plagues from the middle age

Malaria is the number one killer in underdeveloped countries, especially prevalent in Africa where it’s an epidemic. As many as 5 million people each year contract malaria, many recover, many do not. Malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide each year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars for malaria research with the goal of eliminating malaria in our lifetime and by the looks of recent developments, well… read on.

So what does this have to do with Chinese herbal medicine and why did I choose this topic? Malaria has been successfully treated with Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. This is not news, well not to Acupuncturists or Chinese Medical Doctors nor to the scientists and drug companies searching out a cure or a vaccine for malaria. What is news is what Reuters published in an article (yesterday) which I’ve cited below and am quoting here, “elimination (of malaria) in a number of countries is certainly in sight.” Fantastic, right?!

Here’s what really exciting! “New medical treatments such as a drug developed by a Swiss pharmaceuticals company  Novartis using artemisinin, a compound derived from a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine, are driving down deaths and infections, said “Chris Hentschel”  of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.” The FDA has also recently approved the drug Coartem, an artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) for malaria, which is said to have a 96% cure rate  Can you imagine: A pharmaceutical company using an herb-derived compound? Should we be shocked?

We in the Chinese Medical community are not shocked. We know the use of Chinese Medicinal herbs have been used for centuries with g areat success and we’ve all known that Artemisinin, Qing Hao, has been successfully used in the treatment of malaria. But doesn’t it feels great to be vindicated through “Big Pharma” ? When any big pharmaceutical company decides to study the compounds in “our” (Chinese) medicine cabinet we can all stand proud and say, look big pharma, our herbs have proven compounds that even your labs haven’t been able to invent and there’s more in the medicine cabinet than just Artemisinin.

The credibility of Chinese herbal medicine is coming full circle in the scientific age. We can only hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine has a 2000 plus year history. Reuter’s goes on to report, “The treatment, administered to 57 million people last year, saved half a million lives last year.” That’s big news! If there was a drug that saved 500,00 people in the US, last year alone, we would be hearing about it. Because it’s in underdeveloped nations, this news doesn’t make the nightly 5 o’clock. But I can think of no better way than to start my blog page with what should be the Biggest News in the world today, especially on World Malaria Day.

Post Script:

A prominent physician and alchemist named Ge Hong (284-364CE) wrote a formulary called Zhou Hou Bei Zhi Fang (Prescriptions within Arm”s Reach for Use in Emergencies) Many of the formulas in this book are still in use today. He was the first to mention qing hao, (Artemisia Annua) as a treatment for malaria.