Traditional herb in Chinese medicine protects heart attack patients better than current drugs

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, United Kingdom — A common Chinese herb may hold the key to better drugs for patients recovering from a heart attack. Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that Astragalus contains a compound which outperforms current medications for heart attack sufferers. Additionally, this purified plant-based compound doesn’t lead to the same problems those drugs can cause, such as a weakened immune system.

Researchers at Newcastle University are calling the product TA-65® and say it significantly reduces inflammation following a heart attack. Results of a clinical trial show older adults recovering from a heart attack saw their lymphocyte levels (a type of immune cell) increase and they suffered from fewer complications, such as chest and joint pain.

“It has become widely recognized that inflammation plays a key role in the formation, progression, and rupture of a coronary plaque, which induces heart attack, but, importantly, it is also a major risk factor for further complications,” explains Ioakim Spyridopoulos, a professor of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Gerontology at Newcastle University.

“Reducing inflammation is, therefore, considered a key treatment target following a heart attack for patients and our study showed that TA-65® reduced inflammation by up to 62%. While some potent anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to improve outcomes after heart attacks, they result in suppression of the immune system and increase the risk of severe infections,” the lead study author continues.

“In our study, the widely available drug TA-65® was shown to reduce inflammation but also appears to improve immunity by increasing a patient’s immune cells.”

The herb also protects the body’s ‘aging clock’

Spyridopoulos and experts at The James Cook University Hospital tested TA-65® with the help of 90 patients over the age of 65 who suffered a heart attack. The participants randomly received either TA-65® or a dummy placebo pill during the study.

Researchers took blood measurements at the start of the trial, six months later, and one year after they started taking the drug. The team also monitored for any side-effects of taking the new medication. Results show those taking TA-65® had 30 percent fewer side-effects than those taking a placebo. These adverse effects included fever or new medical problems developing after their heart attack.

In addition to protecting the heart, researchers found that this drug coming from Astragalus also helps to maintain and rebuild telomeres. Along with protecting the body’s chromosomes, these protective caps also act as an “aging clock” which controls the number of times a cell can replicate or divide.

Looking at specialized immune cells (T cells), for example, telomeres get shorter and shorter with every cell division and as a person grows older. Once they reach their end, the immune cell enters a period called senescence, where the immune system either disposes of it or the T cell lives on in a dysfunctional state — potentially causing harm to the body.

“If we can show that TA-65® improves the clinical outcomes of patients who have suffered a heart attack, on top of modern treatment options, it will become an important addition to patients’ medical care,” Prof. Spyridopoulos concludes in a media release.

This herb has been around for thousands of years

Astragalus is a large genus of over 3,000 species of herbs and small shrubs belonging to the legume family, Fabaceae. It is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Asia, the Mediterranean, and Western North America. Some species of Astragalus are commonly known as milkvetch, locoweed, or goat’s-thorn.

One of the most well-known species, Astragalus membranaceus (also known as Huang Qi in traditional Chinese medicine), has been used for thousands of years in herbal remedies. It is believed to have various health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, supporting cardiovascular health, and promoting overall well-being. The root of the plant is typically used for medicinal purposes.

However, it’s important to note that not all species of Astragalus are considered beneficial. Some species can be toxic to livestock and can cause locoism, a poisoning condition that affects the nervous system. As with any herbal supplement, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before using Astragalus to ensure its safety and efficacy for your specific needs.

The study is published in the journal GeroScience.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. Keep in mind that a study with only 90 participants is very likely to lead to bad results. Statistically significant means one in 20 studies with similar results would end up being wrong just due to random chance, and that’s ignoring bias and flaws in methodology and errors in calculation. An enormous number of studies are done on various things each year and when weird results are found, like eastern medicine actually doing something good, the results make the news. We expect incorrect results like this. When this study is repeated by a different group with larger numbers, it will have some credibility.

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