Preliminary Evidence for Potential Phytochemical Synergism in Classical Chinese Herbal Pairs

Principal Investigator: Morgan Schafer, MA

Abstract: In classical Chinese medicine, herbs are predominantly prescribed in pairs within the context of a larger herbal formula. The biochemical framework for why these pairs exist has not been fully evaluated. Current botanical medicine research has largely investigated herbal constituents in isolation and not the chemical interactions between herbs when extracted together. This study aims to investigate a potential synergistic relationship using three herbs commonly found in pairs within classical Chinese medicine.  Dried herbs were decocted in deionized water for 30 minutes at 100 ºC either independently or in pairs of Licorice with Ginger and Licorice with Bupleurum, at varying ratios. The supernatant from the decoction was centrifuged and filtered for remaining botanical particles and analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Peak area, retention time, and peak shape were collected and compared between samples of individual herbs and the herbal pairs. Licorice, Ginger and Bupleurum showed chromatographic differences in pairs versus in isolation including increases and decreases in peak area, and potential new peak formation. The observed variation in the chemical signature is indicative of potential synergy among classical Chinese medicine herbal pairs. Future studies are needed to determine the chemical structure of these possible novel peaks, as well as their potential for clinical application.

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