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Bacteria Could Be the Secret to an Effective Herbal Remedy

Juzen-taiho-to (also known as Shi-Quan-Da-Bu-Tang), is one of the most popular herbal formulas in China and Japan and is used in the West by practitioners of traditional Asian medicine, often for immune support. It’s a centuries-old formula whose name means “all-inclusive great tonifying decoction,” and is made up of ten herbs, including cinnamon, ginseng, licorice, and an assortment of other herbal roots and one mushroom that are ground into a fine powder and consumed as a tea-like broth. Research suggests that the formula’s immune-boosting effects are due, at least in part, to bacteria that grow on the roots of one of the formula’s ten herbs. To investigate the source of its immune-boosting activity, researchers zeroed in on its most potent herb, Angelica sinensis, an indigenous Chinese plant known as Dong Gui and sometimes referred to as female ginseng. Because attempts to pinpoint the immune-boosting activity of Dong Gui kept leading the team to dead ends, they broadened their search to screen for immune-boosting compounds in the bacteria growing on the roots of the plant and found that:

  • There were colonies of Rahnella aquatilis bacteria growing on the Dong Gui roots.
  • Like many bacteria, Rahnella aquatilis carries a collection of large molecules known as lipopolysaccharides (LPS) on its surface. Different bacteria carry different patterns of bacterial LPS. They are used by immune cells to target and destroy bacteria, and sometimes act as powerful toxins in the body. The LPS of this bacterium were found to have potent immune-activating effects with low toxicity.

"Our study reinforces the growing awareness of ‘good bacteria’ and their health benefits,” said one of the researchers. “This type of bacteria, in this context, seems to be non-toxic, safe to use and effective in helping you fight off disease.” However, as with all things in the natural world, variations occur: when the researchers tested several brands of the herbal formula, they found different concentrations of the Rahnella aquatilis and its LPS. Variations in the types and amounts of bacteria on a plant’s roots can depend on its growing conditions, season of harvest, and methods of harvesting and processing. Future research may tell us more about how to cultivate, harvest, and prepare this herb to optimize its immune-boosting benefit. In the meantime, this evidence can help us to appreciate that, when we use medicinal herbs, we may be benefiting not only from the actions of the herbs but also from the bacteria that grow with them.

Source: Science Daily

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