Study: Ancient Herbal Medicine Exhibits Lifespan Extension Properties

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal ingredients. (Shutterstock)

There are many steps we can take to achieve good health and longevity. Are there any ancient prescriptions that can help people resist aging?

A research team from the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, National Taiwan University, identified a list of traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) with longevity-extending and anti-aging properties from TCM pharmacopeia such as “Compendium of Materia Medica,” “Invaluable Prescriptions for Ready Reference,” “Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica,” and “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon.”

The team eventually selected 33 single herbs and six herbal formulas; from this group, they found that Psoralea corylifolia (P. corylifolia) may have lifespan-extending properties.

The results were published in Nature Communications in March 2022.

A Compound That Prolongs Life and Reduces the Aging Process

The research team discovered that the ethanol crude extract of P. corylifolia extended the replicative lifespan in yeast. Because the lifespan of budding yeast can be easily quantified, it is one of the simplest models to study aging. Replicative life span refers to the number of times a yeast cell can divide and proliferate before it dies, i.e., the number of offspring cells it can produce.

The team then further purified P. corylifolia and conducted mass spectrometry analysis. They isolated 22 compounds from it. The activities of these compounds were verified and identified by utilizing the mother enrichment program (MEP) system tests, which have been developed to monitor replicative lifespan. One of the compounds, corylin, extended the life span of aged mice fed a high-fat diet.

In the study, the team further demonstrated that corylin prolongs life and reduces the aging process by inhibiting mTOR. This enzyme plays a vital role in regulating cell division and growth.

The researchers found that adding corylin to the diet significantly prolonged the life span of aged mice fed a high-fat diet, with a 20% reduction in mortality at 102 weeks in the corylin-fed group compared to the control mice.

P. corylifolia is the ripe fruit of a leguminous herb, with the scientific name “Cullen corylifolium.” It was recorded in a TCM classic, “Lei’s Treatise on Herb Processing,” written by Lei Wei during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589).

“Lei’s Treatise on Herb Processing” is the earliest Chinese monograph on herbal medicine processing. It originally described 300 kinds of herbs: their properties, appearances, and the critical points of differentiation from easily confused species, to distinguish their authenticity and inferiority. It remains an essential document for the identification and appraisal of Chinese medicines.

P. corylifolia, which has other common names, was also recorded in the “Compendium of Materia Medica.” The entry describes P. corylifolia’s ability to “strengthen the kidney and treat low back pain, frequent urination, nocturnal enuresis in children, chronic tooth pain, and other diseases.”

The Health of the Kidney Affects the Lifespan

Modern science views the kidneys as maintaining blood composition by removing waste and excess water. However, in TCM, the kidney system has a broader range of functions: a person’s growth, maturation, and reproduction are also believed to be governed by the kidneys.

The term “kidney” in TCM does not refer to a single kidney organ but to the kidney meridian. It is a comprehensive system encompassing the urogenital system, endocrine system, immune system, pituitary gland, and adrenal axis.

As recorded in the “Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine,” the kidney is the place for storing the essence. In the TCM theory, the essence transforms Qi (the vital energy) and produces blood (the body’s circulation). In TCM, it is believed that kidneys are in charge of human growth, and the essence stored in the kidneys is the energy of life, determining a person’s vitality. Therefore, the health of the kidney will also affect the person’s lifespan.

A study published in Pediatric Nephrology in 2021 mentioned that growth hormone (GH) receptors and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) receptors are abundantly expressed in the kidney, including the glomerular and tubular cells.

GH, a 22-kDa protein, secretes from the anterior pituitary gland, plays a significant role in postnatal growth, and is involved in many other biological functions, including metabolism and homeostasis. IGF-1 derives from circulation (mainly synthesized in the liver) and is locally produced in the kidney. GH and IGF-1 act synergistically with respect to growth and the kidneys and antagonistically on glucose metabolism.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH),  growth failure is a common complication in children with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Children with growth failure tend to grow at a slower rate and are shorter than many children of the same age and sex. This is because the kidneys play an essential role in a child’s growth. When the kidneys are damaged, growth can be slowed.

Medicines and Food Are of the Same Origin

The five elements theory is one of the central concepts of TCM. The theory is a framework used in TCM to explain how the world and weather around us influence us and how body organs interact.

According to the theory of TCM, the five elements—wood, fire, earth, gold, and water—represent the corresponding five internal organs: liver, heart, spleen, lung, and kidney. These, in turn, represent green, red, yellow, white, and black (purple). When you eat more corresponding five-color food, you can maintain the five internal organs of the body.

In an interview with The Epoch Times on Jan. 8, 2023, Japanese TCM practitioner Ho Ha said, “P. corylifolia has many uses, including treating baldness, but it is advisable to consult a TCM practitioner first and follow their instructions.”

Ho Ha said, “TCM believes that medicines and food are of the same origin.” She suggested that people consume black food, such as black sesame, mulberries, black beans, fleece flower root, black fungus, black rice, and taro, to strengthen the kidney.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Ellen Wan and Weber Lee where all credits are due.


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