Chinese Herbs for the Elderly, Part 1

After thousands of years using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for many conditions in the East, the potential benefits of these treatments gradually are being accepted in some areas of Western Medicine.  The West has a general bias towards evidence-based, clinical studies documenting efficacy, making this acceptance a slow haul. Articles in respected Western-published medical journal finally are becoming more prevalent, although treatments such as Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) are still considered complementary or adjunctive. 

Acupuncture acceptance has spread in the West faster than another important feature in TCM, Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM). With the focus of allopathic medicine on specific drugs for specific conditions as opposed to CHM’s emphasis on treating the whole body it will take some time for this methodology to gain more acknowledgement.

In dealing with seniors, treatments such as CHM may have potential benefits by being able to mitigate some of the side effects inherent in prescription drugs that can be more dangerous in aging patients.  These dangers arise primarily from several natural causes: 1) because of the concomitant decline of renal and hepatic functionality as people age; 2) common comorbid diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and elevated hyperlipidemia; and 3) frequently reduced immune systems. Given these factors, it is natural that adverse effects of drugs might have more dangers in the elderly than in younger patients.

This and the next blog post will examine some important research in how CHM is being used along with Western medicine.

Writing in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology in 2013, three Chinese doctors described a study on the potential benefits of CHM for elderly patients with cardiovascular diseases [i] . The article first calls attention to typical adverse effects after traditional antithrombotic treatments as well as operations like coronary bypass surgery—”bleeding, orthostatic hypotension, bradycardia, or congestive heart failure . . .,” plus “an unfavorable quality of life resulting from drug-related gastrointestinal reactions, depression, dizziness, and cognitive impairment.”

The article cites experimental studies of Cardiovascular (CVD) treatment with some Chinese herbs, Ren Shen (Radix Ginseng), Chuan Xion (Rhizoma Canxiong) and Dan Shen (Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae). There are additional references to clinical trials of CHM combinations,  Xiongshao capsule, Tong Xin Luo capsule and Danshen dripping pill, that led to multiple beneficial effects after traditional Western treatment for CVD. Results confirmed that these herbs:

Can improve the health-related quality of life, lower the restenosis rate after Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI), reduce cardiovascular events, improve electrocardiogram (ECG) and serum myocardial injury biomarkers, decrease consumption of some chemicals, etc. Furthermore, only few mild side effects with spontaneous remission, such as abdominal distention from common CHM in elderly patients with CVDs can be found clinically.

The authors concluded by saying that while CHM benefits were not as strong as specific prescription drug treatments on the process of CVD, “CHM is indeed an alternative and complementary choice for elderly patients with CVDs due to its holistic regulation, individualized and complex intervention, as well as fewer side effects.”

Additional applications of CHM for the elderly will be covered in Part 2.
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[i] Jing Luo, Hao Xu, and Ke-Ji Chen, “Potential benefits of Chinese Herbal Medicine for elderly patients with cardiovascular diseases,” Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, 2013 Dec; 10(4); 305-309. Accessed April 6, 2018.  

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