Traditional Chinese medicines could help prevent heart disease and the progression of pre-diabetes, according to research.
Some herbal treatments proved as effective in lowering blood pressure as Western drugs and improved heart health by lowering cholesterol, scientists found.
Certain alternative medicines could lower blood sugar and insulin levels, too.
Chinese medicines could be used alongside conventional treatments, say researchers from from Shandong University Qilu Hospital in China.
Or they can be beneficial as an alternative for patients intolerant of Western drugs, they said in their review of medical studies over a ten-year period.
Senior review author from the university’s department of traditional Chinese medicine said: ‘The pharmacological effects and the underlying mechanisms of some active ingredients of traditional Chinese medications have been elucidated.
‘Thus, some medications might be used as a complementary and alternative approach for primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.’
It’s potentially good news for people living with diabetes, which is now a global epidemic and has proved a tricky condition to manage for many people.
High blood pressure is very common too, affecting more than one in four adults in the UK, although many won’t show symptoms and realise it.
If untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems including heart disease, the number one killer globally.
The Chinese have used herbs for treating diseases for thousands of years and have become increasingly popular in Europe and North America, mainly as complement to Western medicine.
But the researchers also warn that much of the research conducted have limitations and so their long-term effects are not proven.
~ Key findings ~
Herbs for high blood pressure
The blood pressure-lowering effect of herb zhongfujiangya was found to be similar to that of oral anti-hypertension medication benazeprilm, which goes by the brand name Lotensin.
Similarly, patients treated for eight weeks with herbal tiankuijiangya had a lower reading than those given a placebo.
Herbal Jiangya tablets were found to ‘significantly lower’ systolic blood pressure, that is the amount of pressure in your arteries during contraction of your heart muscle compared to a fake treatment.
The herb Jiangyabao also had a significant effect compared to a placebo, but just at night. But overall, compared to the drug Nimodipine, a calcium channel blocker, it worked just as well.
Qiqilian capsules also proved more effective compared to a placebo.
Herbs for diabetes
The team report some Chinese medicines medications – such as xiaoke, tangminling, jinlida, and jianyutangkang – have a ‘potent’ effect on lowering blood sugar levels and b-cell function, which controls the release of insulin.
Some remedies – such as tangzhiping and tianqi – might prevent the progression of pre-diabetes to diabetes, they note.
Herbs for cholesterol
The researchers looked at research on dyslipidemia, the term for unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels.
They found that jiangzhitongluo, salviamiltiorrhiza and pueraria lobata, and zhibitai capsule all have a ‘potent lipid-lowing effect’.
Herbs for heart disease
Some traditional Chinese medicines such as qiliqiangxin, nuanxin, shencaotongmai, and yangxinkang, might be effective in improving function in patients with chronic heart failure, they wrote.
Limitations with trials
But Western scientists often reject Chinese medicine for specific reasons, warned Dr Zhao’s team.
Chinese medicines are frowned upon because they do not go through the same exhaustive approval process as trials conducted domestically, they pointed out.
Plus, one treatment can be made of many different ingredients with various chemical compounds, making it hard to pinpoint how their benefits work.
‘One should bear in mind that traditional Chinese medicine medications are usually prescribed as complex formulae, which are often further manipulated by the practitioner on a personalized basis,’ said Dr Zhao.
Beware of complications
However, not all ancient Chinese remedies are considered benign as previous studies suggest.
One of the most commonly used, aristolochia (AKA birthwort or Dutchman’s pipe), was shown to trigger kidney failure and cancer.
Hailed for more than 2,500 years as a cure-all alternative medicine, it is marketed as a treatment for ‘snakebite, head wounds, insomnia, constipation, uterine problems, and generalised edema’, according to a study published last year in the journal EMBO Reports.
As a result of safety concerns mounting over the years, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency banned the import, sale or supply of aristolochia in the UK in 2001.
Outside of herbal medicines, traditional Chinese healing includes practices like tai chi and acupuncture, are generally considered safe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the risks of acupuncture are low if you are treated by a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner.
However, they do note that possible side effects include soreness and infections are on rare occasions, if the needles are pushed in too deeply, they could puncture an internal organ – particularly a lung.
Experts recommend patients consult their GP before trying any Chinese herbal supplements or therapies.
Written by Claudia Tanner and published by The Daily Mail ~ June 14, 2017.
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