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Can Chinese Herbal Medicine Prevent Strokes?

A recently published paper aimed to summarize the research regarding the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for stroke prevention.

On a global scale, stroke is the leading cause of serious disability and is second only to heart disease when it comes to the number of victims claimed. With an aging population and unhealthy lifestyle changes increasing in recent times, its incidence has been steadily increasing. However, many stroke risk factors are actually modifiable. From high blood pressure to obesity, such risk factors can be managed with the aid of medication and healthy lifestyle changes. On the flip side, when left unchanged, these interconnected risk factors combine and put certain individuals at an even higher risk for suffering a stroke. Previous research suggests that treatment of modifiable risk factors has the potential to inform stroke prevention strategies, improve patients’ quality of life, and lower related healthcare costs.

With a history of over 2500 years, Chinese herbal medicine harnesses the power of medicinal plants and certain other natural ingredients to treat a variety of chronic diseases. It has been speculated that Chinese herbal medicine has the potential to treat certain stroke risk factors—type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, in particular. Unfortunately, since little research has been conducted on the topic, the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine therapies on these risk factors remains unclear.

A systematic review recently published in Chinese Medicine set out to assess the safety and potential benefits of Chinese herbal medicine interventions in the context of stroke prevention. Based in Australia, the literature search included randomized controlled trials and cross-over studies spanning from 1996 to 2016. In all, 46 trials were found on the topic of CHM interventions in the management of stroke risk factors:  twelve trials for hypertension,  ten trials for diabetes, eight trials for hyperlipidemia, seven trials for impaired glucose tolerance, three trials for obesity, and six trials for combined risk factors.

The systematic review found that, as a supplement to biomedicine and/or a lifestyle change, the use of Chinese herbal medicine interventions was found to more effectively lower blood pressure, decrease blood glucose level, and reduce body weight compared with the use of Chinese herbal medicine alone. However, the researchers urge readers to take this information with a grain of salt, citing the highly varied study designs and methodologies of the trials used for this review paper.

The researchers also remind us that stroke risk factors can vary by ethnic groups; as such, since the majority of the studied trials were conducted on a Chinese population, the results of this systematic review may not be universally applicable. Nevertheless, the paper highlights the promising potential benefits of Chinese herbal medicine as a treatment—especially when utilized in combination with biomedicine and healthy lifestyle changes. This topic, accordingly, warrants future trials and additional research—conducted on larger sample sizes and more diverse populations, with the implementation of more specific methodologies and longer follow-up times. Perhaps, then, we will have some more concrete answers.

Written by Rebecca Yu

Source: Peng, W., Lauche, R., Ferguson, C., Frawley, J., Adams, J., & Sibbritt, D. (2017). Efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine for stroke modifiable risk factors: a systematic review. Chinese Medicine, 12(1), 25.



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