By B. Vincent Maier
Chinese herbal medicines have been in use for 4,000 years, yet their properties are just now being studied on a cellular and molecular level. Some 500 herbs are currently being used by Chinese doctors, which they can combine to make innumerable remedies. One that has been tested relatively extensively is Juzen taiho-to (TJ-48), which is a hand prepared mixture of ten dried and pulverized herbal plants. In Chinese traditional medicine it has been used to treat cases of extreme fatigue, and anemia. However, recent studies have focused on its ability to reduce the toxicity of anti-tumor agents. Researchers also noted that TJ-48 augments antibody production and activates macrophages by oral administration. The exact mechanism of pharmacological action are still unclear.
Other studies by Chinese and Japanese investigators have shown a role between herbal preparations containing zinc and reduced symptoms of fatigue and related conditions. Tests done by Yu-Q, et. al. demonstrate that the amount of available zinc is much higher in an herbal preparation than in an equal molar amount of zinc sulfate, and the clinical effects are noticeably greater. There are also less adverse side effects with the herbal form. This is because zinc derived from plants is bound to an amino acid, or chelated, which makes it easier to be absorbed by the body and carried to where it is needed. Their study suggested that the herbal preparation they were examining could raise the zinc level and cure anemia.
The importance of zinc to overall body health is well documented. It is a co- factor in 70 enzyme systems, and zinc has been shown to increase the number and efficiency of T cells. When B cells make antibodies they use up zinc; consequently, an adequate supply is necessary for proper functioning of the immune system. Moreover, macrophages are more active when zinc is in good supply. Some studies suggest at least 25mg daily is needed to properly restore and maintain the immune system.
The relationship between the immune system, the thymus gland, and serum zinc levels is being studied by Nicola Fabris of Italy, and was recently reported at an international conference. Zinc can help reverse some of our failing immune functions, he states, by restoring our thymus gland, which usually starts to shrink after the age 60 and is followed by declines in the levels of T and B cells. This drastic shrinkage is caused by a gradual decline of zinc in the body, which seems to spontaneously happen as one grows older. This may be because the body becomes less efficient at assimilating the metal or the amount in the diet decreases. Whichever, the proper size and functioning of the thymus can be restored by daily ingestion of small doses (at least 15mg) of chelated zinc. In one mouse study, the thymus was restored to within 80% of its youthful size. Human subjects also showed increased thymus size and elevated levels of T-cells and active hormones similar to those seen in young people.
Since Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been connected to certain dysfunctions of the immune system it would stand to reason that restoring it could lead to a reduction or elimination of some symptoms. It is unclear if debilitating fatigue, the most troubling symptom, would be helped by treating the immune system alone.
TJ-48 has been used to treat fatigue historically, and has been shown to be an immunomodulatory agent recently. Parameters tested by H. Yamada included natural killer (NK) cell activity, blastogenesis by PHA, several T-lymphocyte subsets, and serum triglyceride levels. Over one year, the target group showed a remarkable elevation in NK cell activity, with a corresponding reduction in lipo-protein values. One study using mice given lethal doses of tumor inducing chemicals had the death rate significantly slowed by orally administering TJ-48 afterwards for one week. The researchers noted that atrophy of the thymus was less than in the control group, and this they attribute to TJ-48. Similar studies have proven that it is a promising anti- tumor agent, so its traditional use for treating anemia and chronic fatigue are being ignored.
Another herbal preparation with demonstrated anti-tumor properties is Shi-un- kou. It also has the ability to reduce the activity of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). It was tested as a mixture and broken down into its constituent herbs for individual testing. Two, Angelica acutiloba and Macrotomia euchroma, proved particularly effective. Since these tests were done on mice, injected with the tumor promotor TPA which artificially allows EBV to overwhelm the immune system, its relevance to CFS patients is not known. However, it has been used to treat fatigue in the past so there could be a connection.
Further exploration of traditional Chinese herbal medicine will no doubt uncover other useful therapies for treating CFS. For now, it seems we will have to be content with reading between the lines of related journal articles, where other important diseases are being investigated.
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Konoshima, T., et. al., Anti-tumor promoting activities and inhibitory effects on Epstein Barr virus activation of She-un-kou and its constituents. Yakugaku-Zasshi, November 1989 pps. 843-6.
Okamoto, T., et.,al., Clinical effects of Juzendaiho-to on immunologic and fatty metabolic states in postoperative patients with gastrointestinal cancer. Gan-To-Kagaku-Ryoho, April 1989 pps.1533-7.
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