Chinese Five Arts > Art of Medicine (Healing)

TCM and modern medicine


Following are a few highlights from a great article by Peter Gwin, called "How ancient remedies are changing modern medicine". The story appeared in the January 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

"Cultures from the Arctic to the Amazon and Siberia to the South Pacific have developed their own medicine chests of traditional cures. But China, with one of the oldest continuous accumulations of documented medical observations, offers the biggest trove for scientists to sift through. (...)

Long synonymous with swindling, snake oil actually refers to a traditional Chinese ointment derived from the fat of the Erabu sea snake. Historians believe that such ointments were introduced to the U.S. during the 1800s by Chinese immigrants building railroads, who used them to treat aching joints and muscles. The substance acquired its shady reputation when American hucksters began selling mineral oil as Chinese snake oil.

But here’s the rub: Studies have shown that fat in the Erabu sea snake, an ingredient in some traditional Chinese remedies, contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Omega-3s are known to reduce inflammation and harmful cholesterol, improve cognition, and help alleviate depression. They are now used in several skin care products. In the 2000s Japanese scientists fed Erabu fat to mice and observed that their ability to swim and to learn their way around mazes improved. (...)

During the 1990s Yung-Chi Cheng, a pharmacology professor at Yale School of Medicine, noted that many cancer patients stopped chemotherapy because of its side effects, including diarrhea and severe nausea. Patients who completed the full course of chemotherapy tended to live the longest, so curbing the side effects, Cheng reasoned, could increase life expectancy. He also knew that Chinese medicine had many herbal treatments for diarrhea and nausea.
His colleague Shwu-Huey Liu, an expert in pharmaceutical chemistry who’s fluent in classical Mandarin, searched the Yale library’s large collection of early Chinese medical texts. In an ancient book titled Treatise on Cold Damage, printed on slightly wrinkled bamboo paper, she found an 1,800-year-old recipe for a mixture of skullcap, licorice, peony, and Chinese date, described as a treatment for “diarrhea, abdominal pain, and scorching heat in the anus.”

Cheng’s team began trying different blends of the herbal formula. Over the past 20 years, they have proceeded from tests on mice to patients undergoing cancer treatment, overseen by the National Cancer Institute. As Cheng had hoped, almost all the patients who took the herbal formula experienced relief from nausea and other gastrointestinal distress, but something else happened: Their tumors shrank faster than those of patients who hadn’t taken the herbal formula. (...)

After analyzing tumors in mice that were given the formula, Peikwen says, researchers noticed a significant increase in tumor-eating macrophages—white blood cells that gobble up cancer cells. The way the herbs interact appears to be the key. “That’s really where the frontier lies,” Peikwen says. “PHY906 is a cocktail of chemicals—not unlike the drug cocktails that finally proved effective for AIDS patients. We’re just unraveling the original formula and putting it back together in a modern, scientifically based therapy.”

To date PHY906 has been used in eight human trials alongside different chemotherapy drugs and radiation to treat colorectal, liver, and pancreatic cancers, Peikwen tells the audience. “We are hopeful that PHY906 will become the first FDA-approved, multi-herb drug.”"


(source: How ancient remedies are changing modern medicine)


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