According to an ancient Chinese herbal formulas, primarily used for cardiovascular indications like heart disease, can produce large amounts of artery-widening nitric oxide.
The study was conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Nitric oxide is crucial to the cardiovascular system because it signals the inner walls of blood vessels to relax, which facilitates the flow of blood through the heart and circulatory system.
The messenger molecule also eliminates dangerous clots, lowers high blood pressure and reduces artery-clogging plaque formation.
The findings of the pre-clinical study by scientists in the university's Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM) have revealed that ancient Chinese herbal formulas "have profound nitric oxide bioactivity primarily through the enhancement of nitric oxide in the inner walls of blood vessels, but also through their ability to convert nitrite and nitrate into nitric oxide," said Dr. Nathan S. Bryan, Ph.D., the study's senior author.
Herbal formulas are a major component of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs), which also include acupuncture and massage.
"TCMs have provided leads to safe medications in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The opportunity for Dr. Bryan's work is outstanding given that cardiac disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States," said Dr. C. Thomas Caskey.
In the study, the researchers performed laboratory tests on DanShen, GuaLou and other herbs purchased at a Houston store to assess their ability to produce nitric oxide.
Ancient Chinese herbal formulas used primarily for cardiovascular indications are made up of three to 25 herbs.
The formulas can be administered as tablets, elixirs, soups and teas.
The researchers said that Most Chinese herbal formulas marketed in the United States are not considered drugs, but are taken as dietary supplements and are not regulated as strictly as drugs.
Scientists also tested the capacity of the store-bought TCMs to widen blood vessels in an animal model.
"Each of the TCMs tested in the assays relaxed vessels to various degrees. Further studies should be considered in humans, particularly those with cardiac indications. Hopefully, we will have more data to report in the near future," said the authors.
The study will be published in an upcoming print issue of the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine.