Herb & Health News


The combination of Huang Qi (Astragali Radix)-based Chinese herbal medicine and platinum-based chemotherapy is more effective in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer than the chemotherapy alone. An analysis of data from 34 published clinical trials suggests that at 12 months the mortality rate was reduced by 33% among those treated with the dual therapy. The Astragalus may work by stimulating macrophage and natural killer cell activity. (McCulloch M et al. Astragalus-Based Chinese Herbs and Platinum-Based Chemotherapy for Advanced Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. J Clin Oncol. Jan 20 2006: 419-430).


Consumption of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) appears to confer some immunity to catching colds. Two hundred and seventy-nine subjects were randomised to receive either 400mg of freeze-dried ginseng or placebo for four months. Consumption of the ginseng was a associated with a decreased mean number of colds and reduced total symptom scores and days of illness. (Predy GN et al. Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial. Can Med Assoc J 2005; 173: 1043-8).


A meta-analysis of studies into the relationship of tea drinking to the risk of developing breast cancer, has found a 20% reduction with high green tea consumption, with no comparable benefit for black tea (with some studies showing a small increased risk). The anti-cancer benefits of tea are linked to the presence of water-extractable polyphenols which are much higher in green tea (30-40%) than black tea (3-10%). (Sun CL etal. Green tea, black tea and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Carcinogenesis, doi:10.1093/carcin/bgi276).


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused a petition that would have allowed a qualified health claim for the relationship between green tea consumption and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. While the petitioners offered 105 published studies, the FDA was only willing to use 11 of them and concluded that there was no credible evidence to support the claim. The FDA accepted human intervention and observational studies, while rejecting animal and in vitro data.


Regular green tea consumption appears to be associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline, according to a study of more than 1000 Japanese adults in their 70s. Those who drank two or more cups of green tea a day were half as likely to show signs of cognitive impairment as those who drank three cups or less a week, with an average of one cup a day showing a risk roughly halfway between the two other groups. Although the study was not able to demonstrate a clear connection between drinking green tea and maintaining mental acuity, it may help explain why there is less dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, in Japan compared to Europe and North America. (Kuriyama S et al. Green tea consumption and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study from the Tsurugaya Project 1. Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, Feb 2006; 83: 355-361).


Several clinical studies appear to have demonstrated the greater health benefits of drinking wine compared to drinking beer, resulting in lower mortality among wine drinkers. Now a new study has suggested that these benefits may be associated with the fact that wine drinkers tend to have better diets than beer drinkers. Analysis of supermarket shopping habits in two large Danish supermarket chains revealed that wine drinkers tend to buy more olives, fruit and vegetables, poultry and low fat foods, whilst beer drinkers tended towards ready-cooked meals, sugar, fatty meat, chops and soft drinks. (http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/rapidpdf/bmj.38694.568981.80).


It is expected that 2006 will be the first year in recorded human history that women will outlive men in virtually every part of the world. Women have outlived men in most affluent countries, for example Western Europe, since the 19th century (18th century in Sweden), but until now high maternal death rates in developing countries have reduced life expectancy in women. The figures record life expectancy from birth, and the authors point out that in some countries the figures would be different if life expectancy from conception was measured. They also say that “even the life expectancy from birth may not be a permanent achievement, given that the largest remaining untapped market for cigarettes in the world is made up of women living in poorer countries”. (Barford A et al. Life expectancy: women now on top everywhere. BMJ 2006;332:808, doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7545.808).


Current advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively (with little or no formula supplementation) for at least six months after delivery. Now a study has confirmed the value of this advice. The parents of over 2000 children were asked about how long they had been breastfed, how long they had been exclusively breastfed, and how often their babies had respiratory symptoms (including pneumonia, ear infections, colds, flu and wheezing). When the study authors compared the difference between four and six months exclusive breastfeeding, they found a reduced risk of developing pneumonia and otitis media in the babies who were breastfed longer, with no significant differences for colds, flu and wheezing. (Chantry CJ et al. Full Breastfeeding Duration and Associated Decrease in Respiratory Tract Infection in US Children. Pediatrics 2006; 117: 425-432).


A retrospective Norwegian study that investigated the eating habits of 502 children (aged 6-16) in the first year of life found a correlation between daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and a 43% reduction in the risk of developing asthma. No similar association was found for breastfeeding or cod-liver oil supplementation. Allergic sensitisation was not apparently influenced by fruit and vegetable consumption but was positively associated with supplemental vitamins and cod-liver oil in the first 11 months.(Jia F et al. Effects of early intake of fruit or vegetables in relation to later asthma and allergic sensitization in school-age children. Acta Paediatrica 2005;94(2):147-54).


Thirty minutes of brisk walking can elevate the mood of people suffering from depression, giving them a greater sense of vigor and psychological well-being for up to an hour afterwards. (Bartholomew JB et al. Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(12):2032-2037, December 2005).


According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is caused by genetic mutations that impair the central nervous system, preventing it from rebounding from everyday stress and from less frequent, stronger pressures, eventually triggering a cascade of molecular responses that leave the patient severely debilitated. CFS is thought to affect up to one million Americans, causing severe exhaustion, widespread musculoskeletal pain, impairments in thinking and sleep disturbances. (Vernon, S. Pharmacogenomics, April 2006; vol 7: pp 345-354).


Older men (65 to 84) who ate or drank the most cocoa (4.2g a day) were found to be at half the risk of dying during a fifteen-year study period, compared to men who consumed none. Eating or drinking cocoa appears to reduce the risk of hypertension and hypertension mortality, and even reduce the risk of death from all causes. Cocoa contains flavan-3-ols, which have been linked to lower blood pressure and improved function of the cells lining the blood vessels, as well as antioxidants which may protect against a range of other diseases. (Buijsse B et al. Cocoa Intake, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Mortality: The Zutphen Elderly Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, Feb 2006; 166: 411-417).


A cannabis-based oro-mucosal spray has been found to be superior to placebo in relieving pain and sleep disturbance associated with multiple sclerosis. (Rog DJ et al. Randomized, controlled trial of cannabis-based medicine in central pain in multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2005; 65: 812-19).


The Chinese medical treatment of and research into dementia in the elderly has focused for some time on the importance of blood stasis as part of the clinical picture. This approach has now been backed up by a study which detected the presence of cerebral emboli (spontaneous blood clots or debris from arterial disease) in 32% of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 37% of those with vascular dementia, compared to 15% and 14% of similarly aged controls. (Macfarlane G et al. Cerebral emboli as a potential cause of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: case-control study. BMJ 2006;332;1119-1124).


In contrast to the findings of previous studies, a new placebo-controlled trial of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) involving 225 men over the age of 49 with mild to moderate symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, found no benefit in symptoms, urinary flow or quality of life after one year of taking 160mg twice daily. (Bent S et al. Saw Palmetto for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. N Engl J Med 2006; 354:557-566, Feb 9, 2006).


The largest study to date into the effects of healing prayer by strangers, has found no benefits. Around 1800 patients at six US hospitals, all recovering from coronary bypass surgery, were randomly divided into three groups. The first group was told they might or might not be prayed for, and in fact were. The second group was told they might or might not be prayed for, and in fact were not. And the third group were prayed for after being told they definitely would be. The outcome showed that there was no benefit in terms of complications deriving from actual intercessionary prayer, with the disturbing finding that the group who definitely knew they were being prayed for had more complications than the other groups. It is suggested this might be because of the additional stress caused by thinking their condition was serious enough to be prayed for. The study cost $2.5 million and has given rise to calls to abandon further studies into this form of healing prayer. (Benson H et al. Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal (2006) 151; 4: 934-942).


Medication by melatonin appears to be ineffective for secondary sleep disorders or sleep disorders caused by jetlag or shift work. This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis of six randomised controlled trials. Melatonin was not however found to be unsafe with short term use. (Buscemi N et al. Efficacy and safety of exogenous melatonin for secondary sleep disorders and sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction: meta-analysis. BMJ 2006;332).


This German study compared the number of days of moderate headache experienced by two groups of chronic headache sufferers, one after 4 weeks of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture treatment at a Chinese medicine hospital in Kotzting, Germany, and the other assigned to a non-treatment waiting group. Fifty-two percent of patients in the treatment group experienced a greater than 50% reduction in headache days, compared to 16% in the waiting group. Patients with migraine and tension-type headache improved more than patients with other chronic headaches. (Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2004) 12, 71-78).


In a Japanese study, 33 patients with mild to moderate dementia were assigned to received either Ba Wei Di Huang Wan (Eight-Ingredient Pill with Rehmannia), 7.5g/day or placebo for 8 weeks. At the end of the study period, the treatment group showed significantly improved cognitive functioning and ability to complete day-to-day activities, compared to no improvement in the placebo group. The herbs were also found to increase cerebral blood flow. (Geriatrics and Gerontology International 4 (s1), S124-S128).


This joint study carried out by the University of Michigan and the Beijing Heart Lung and Blood Vessel Research Centre compared 102 children who took Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) for their mild intermittent asthma with 109 children with similar asthma who used only western medicine (WM). The children using only WM were three times more likely to make hospital emergency department visits, twice as likely to report symptoms and five times a likely to use bronchodilators as children using CHM. (11th Annual Symposium on Complementary Health Care 2004).

Ginger Root tea Effective for Pregnancy Related Nausea and Vomiting

New research presented in a recent issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that ginger root can treat another common condition: nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The research, conducted at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, found that pregnant women given ginger capsules experienced significant decreases in the occurrence and severity of nausea or vomiting episodes compared to those given a placebo.

Sixty-seven women, all no more than 17 weeks pregnant and with at least one incident of nausea during pregnancy, were assigned to either a placebo group or a ginger group. Women in the ginger group received a total of one gram of ginger per day, in the form of a 250-mg capsule taken three times daily after meals and once before bedtime, for four days. Women in the placebo group received identical-looking capsules at the same intervals. Both groups were asked to consume frequent small meals rich in carbohydrates but low in fat, and to not take any other medications.

At baseline, the women were asked to grade the severity of their nausea in the past 24 hours on a scale of 0-10, 10 being worst, as well as any instances of vomiting The women were asked to continue recording the severity of nausea twice daily the course of the study, and to document any episodes of vomiting at the end of each day. At a follow-up visit one week later, women from both groups were asked to rate any change in the severity of their symptoms to assess their response to treatment.

Ginger Patients Experience “Significant” Results

The average change in nausea scores was “significantly greater” for women in the ginger group compared to women given a placebo. By the fourth day of treatment, nausea scores had decreased by an average of 3.4 points in patients who received ginger. Those who received a placebo felt a decrease of only 1.5 points over the same time.

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