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Easing Intestinal Woes With Japanese Herbs
 Digestive Disorders Center Feature Story

Easing Intestinal Woes With Japanese Herbs
Preparations may relieve indigestion, constipation without side effects

For Indigestion, Cheaper May Be Just As Good(HealthDay News) -- Ancient Japanese herbal medicines appear to help calm angry stomachs that are not helped by modern treatments -- and without side effects.

Drugs used for gastrointestinal "motility disorders," such as constipation and indigestion, often don't work or cause unwanted side effects, the researchers explained. At such times, they said, the "old ways" might offer relief.

"Japanese herbal medicines have been used in East Asia for thousands of years," Hidekazu Suzuki, an associate professor at the Keio University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement about research on the issue. "Our review of the world medical literature reveals that herbal medicines serve a valuable role in the management of patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders."

The researchers analyzed data from studies that examined several different Japanese herbal medicines, including Rikkunshi-to and Dai-kenchu-to. The results showed that Rikkunshi-to, which is made from eight herbs, reduced the discomfort of indigestion, and Dai-kenchu-to, a mixture of ginseng, ginger and zanthoxylum fruit, was found to help constipation in children and people with postoperative ileus, a disruption of normal bowel movements after surgery. Another herbal medicine, called Hange-shashin-to, reduced the severity and frequency of diarrhea caused by anti-cancer drugs.

The use of medicinal herbal preparations is more standardized in Japan than in the United States.

According to Subhuti Dharmananda, director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Ore., kampo medicine -- based on traditional Chinese medicine but adapted to Japanese culture -- is widely practiced in Japan. It also has been adopted in Taiwan and exported from Taiwan to the West.

Dharmananda noted that the Japanese Ministry of Health's formal recognition of Chinese herb formulas as suitable for coverage by national health insurance has influenced the practice of kampo in the last 25 years.

And, because many herbal formulas are covered under the national health insurance plan, Japanese manufacturers of the medicines have had to conform to the same standards of quality as other pharmaceutical companies. The herbal formulas are prepared in factories under strict conditions.

According to the American Cancer Society, kampo practitioners might prescribe one or more herbal mixtures, depending on a person's complaint and condition.

Unlike Western medicine, kampo does not give names to diseases but describes the patient as deviating in some way from a healthy balance.

A person's illness is diagnosed based on a concept called sho, which involves the practitioner visually observing the patient, listening to the sounds made by his or her body, smelling, touching and questioning the patient. Signs and symptoms are then interpreted according to the ancient theories of the eight disease states.

Interpretation of the patients' symptoms depends a great deal on the intuition, experience and observation skills of the practitioner. The kampo preparation is chosen based on the diagnosis, and it is intended to help the patient return to a balanced state.

On the Web

To learn more about GI motility disorders, visit the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Wiley-Blackwell, news release, March 24, 2009; Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Ore. (; August 2001, Acupuncture Today; American Cancer Society (
Author: Dennis Thompson
Publication Date: March 31, 2010
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