Can Chinese Herbal Medicine Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

alzheimers disease and chinese medicine

Photo by Gary Knight

By Case Adams, Naturopath

New research has been suggesting that a number of herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine improve memory and possibly even be able to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study from doctors at the Hubei University of Chinese Medicine tested 60 Alzheimer’s patients with a Chinese medicine formula called Bushenhuatanyizhi. The formula was given to the patients in the form of six grams of granules twice per day for twelve weeks. The researchers gave a control group piracetam – a drug some research has found improves memory.

The researchers found that the Bushenhuatanyizhi treatment significantly improved cognitive function and improved daily life of the Alzheimer’s patients.

The formula contains the following herbs:

• Radix Polygoni Multiflori (Heshouwu) – Polygonum multiflorum – also called FoTi
• Rhizoma Panacis Japonici (Zhujieshen) – Panax japonicum – Panax Ginseng
• Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii (Shichangpu) – Acorus tatarinowii – Grassleaf sweetflag
• Caulis Bambusae In Taeniam (Zhuru) – Bambusa tuldoides – Bamboo stem shavings
• Rhizoma Pinelliae (Banxia) – Pinellia ternate – Crow dipper / Pinellia
• Poria (Fuling) – Poria mushroom
• Radix palygalae (Yuanzhi) – Thinleaf Milkwort Root

Several of these herbs have been shown to improve memory and cognitive skills in other studies

The GETO formula also contains some of these herbs. In a clinical study presented at the First Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C., 70 Alzheimer’s patients 65 years old and older were given GETO, a placebo or piracetam. The researchers found that GETO resulted in higher memory scores than the placebo groups or the piracetam group.

One of the more promising of these herbs for Alzheimer’s treatment is Polygonum multiflorum or FoTi. Researchers from China’s Central South University treated 180 patients with Polygonum multiflorum extract, and 29 patients with the drug piracetam. The FoTi herb significantly increased memory scores and daily living scores using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and Ability of Daily Living Scale (ADL) indeces. The researchers found a 93% effective rate among the FoTi herbal treatment group, compared to 69% among the piracetam group.

The FoTi, the Poria mushroom and the Thinleaf milkwort root appear to offer the most scientifically verifiable promise for improving memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s among the Chinese herbs, along with the GATO and Bushenhuatanyizhi formulas.

Individual diagnosis and treatment

This said, Chinese herbal medicine is typically applied differently for different people according to the diagnostic study by the Chinese physician. The Chinese physician will typically review the flow of Qi and the relative flows or stagnations among the various organs and meridians of the body before concluding on a treatment that fits the individual patient.

Illustrating the effectiveness of this individual approach in Chinese medicine, researchers from China’s Shanghai Geriatric Institute of Chinese Medicine followed 131 Alzheimer’s patients who were given individual Chinese medicine treatments, comparing them to those patients given the Western medicine standard treatment of 5 milligrams of donepezil per day.

Those Alzheimer’s patients given the individual Chinese medicine treatments improved in 71% of the cases, while 20% of the cases worsened. Among those Alzheimer’s patients given the donepezil, 56% improved and 35% worsened.

The researchers also tested the patients using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) testing to determine the relative neuron connectivity between brain centers. Both treatments resulted in improved connectivity. The researchers concluded:

“TCM treatment based on syndrome differentiation is effective in improving cognitive function of patients with mild to moderate AD and increasing the brain function by increasing connectivity between posterior cingulated gyrus and specific areas in the brain.”


Ping Liu, Mingwang Kong, Shihe Yuan, Junfeng Liu, and Ping Wang, “History and Experience: A Survey of Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2014, Article ID 642128, 5 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/642128

L. Yu, S. W. Lin, R. Q. Zhou, et al., “Chinese herbal medicine for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease based on syndrome differentiation: a randomized controlled trial,” Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao, vol. 10, no. 7, pp. 76–82, 2012.

XU, Yi, Jin-zhou TIAN, and Shu-li SHENG. “Changes of brain myelin sheath structure and myelin basic protein content induced by amyloid β peptide (Aβ) and effect of GETO on these changes.” Chinese Journal of Rehabilitation Theory & Practice 12 (2005): 004.

Tian, Jinzhou, et al. “P4-302: Effect of GETO extract on expression of ChAT and NGF in the brain with AD model.” Alzheimer’s and Dementia 2.3 (2006): S605-S606.

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Hou DR, Wang Y, Xue L, Tian Y, Chen K, Song Z, Yang QD. Effect of polygonum multiflorum on the fluidity of the mitochondria membrane and activity of COX in the hippocampus of rats with Abeta 1-40-induced Alzheimer’s disease. Zhong Nan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2008 Nov;33(11):987-92.

Xu Y, Tian JZ, Sheng SL. [Effect of GETO on expression of protein in postsynaptic dense zone of Alzheimer’s disease model rats]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2006 Jan;26(1):54-7.

Yu L, Lin SM, Zhou RQ, Tang WJ, Huang PX, Dong Y, Wang J, Yu ZH, Chen JL, Wei L, Xing SL, Cao HJ, Zhao HB. [Chinese herbal medicine for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease based on syndrome differentiation: a randomized controlled trial]. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2012 Jul;10(7):766-76.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.”

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