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Traditional Chinese medicine helps stroke patients
Katherine Combes

Since the first century of the Common Era, constituents of the Chinese herbal medicine called gastrodine compound granule have been used to treat disorders such as dizziness, headache and stroke in China. A recent study shows that the benefits of the medicine compare favorably with modern treatments for dementia patients who suffered strokes.

The major ingredient is extracted from tall gastrodia tuber plants, a type of orchid, and combined with six other herbs in the first of the herbal drugs to be tested in clinical trials on dementia. Gastrodia was listed in the ancient Shennong Bencao Jing (ca. 100 A.D.) and was later classified by Tao Hong as a superior herb, meaning that it could be taken for a long time to protect health and prolong life, as well as for treating illnesses. Research results from a randomized double-blind study presented at the American Heart Association’s Second Asia Pacific Scientific Forum, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June showed that this compound was effective in improving impaired memory, orientation, language and other effects of stroke in patients who were diagnosed with mild to moderate vascular dementia, or VaD, after a stroke.

According to researchers from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, after Alzheimer’s disease, VaD is one of the most common dementias, afflicting 1-3 percent of people. It results in problems with memory, thinking and behavior and interferes with a person's ability to work and to carry out everyday tasks such as bathing, cooking and dressing. As stated by the lead researcher in this study, Dr. Jinzhou Tian, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute of Geriatrics, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, “There are already drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors that are effective in the treatment of cognitive and memory function in dementia, but these drugs are expensive and have side effects.”

This study was carried out on 120 patients diagnosed with mild to moderate VaD lasting three months or more at the Beijing Dongzhimen Hospital over a 12-week period. The patients were randomly divided into two groups who received either the gastrodine compound granule (70 patients) or the drug usually used for stroke patients in China, Duxila (almitrine and raubasine, 50 patients). Both groups received their medications dissolved in hot water and delivered orally three times a day for 12 weeks.

On the basis of a test that measures mental states (mini-mental state exam) the patients in the gastrodine and Duxila groups showed significant improvement at the end of the study over their baseline scores. There were similar improvements in both groups with respect to memory, orientation, calculations and language. However, the gastrodine group exhibited significant differences on a test (the Blessed Behavioral Scale) designed to measure behavioral characteristics, including daily living activities, personality and behavior, between their beginning and ending scores and between the gastrodine group and the Duxila group. Furthermore, the study found indications that gastrodine treatment may have increased regional cerebral blood flow in the VaD patients, but this finding requires confirmatory studies. Dr. Tian said that broader and longer-term studies, at least six months or more, are necessary to determine the clinical benefits of the gastrodine compound for patients with mild to moderate cognitive impairment from ischemic VaD. Given the positive results so far, however, further studies into herbal therapies for VaD may well be warranted.

The tests seem to indicate the efficacy of this ancient technique. In this case, it is a compound from traditional Chinese medicine that shows great promise in helping people with a debilitating disease at a low cost, high effectiveness and very few, if any, side effects.


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