How baical skullcap can help your heart
With a rich history of use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is used for its anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-microbial, diuretic and anti-tumour properties, especially in liver diseases, including hepatitis and liver cancer. Preliminary research supports these traditional uses and the implications for the practical use of this herb are very exciting.
Baical skullcap, known as huang qin in TCM, is a perennial herb native to southern China and throughout Korea. Its long tradition of use in TCM means it is beautifully woven into the intricate medical categorisation of this ancient system of medicine. TCM categorises baical skullcap as a heat-clearing and dampness-drying herb due to its bitter and cold properties. This means it is one of the herbs of choice in TCM for illness characterised by fever, abdominal fullness, poor appetite, nausea, sensations of abdominal heaviness, thirst with no desire to drink and a red tongue with a greasy yellow coating and rapid, slippery pulse. In our Western translation, these properties leave baical skullcap as a herb indicated for jaundice and hepatitis, “hot” coughs, ulceration and myriad other conditions.
Antibiotic and anti-inflammatory
Studies on this humble herb have revealed antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, liver-protective, fever-lowering, blood-pressure-lowering, mild sedative and diuretic effects as well as highlighting a potential role in cancer support.
Baical skullcap’s potential as an antibiotic agent is particularly exciting in our current climate of decreasing effectiveness of antibiotic medications. As we are forced to explore other avenues to bridge the gap, herbs such as baical skullcap will offer a fresh avenue of investigation. So far, preliminary research has found baical skullcap to be effective against a wide spectrum of organisms, including particular strains involved in pneumonia, dysentery, cholera, meningitis and even common flu.
Of particular interest are findings that baicalin, an active constituent of baical skullcap, increased the antibiotic effect of beta lactam antibiotics. Specifically, baicalin restored the effectiveness of these antibiotics against the beta lactam-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Further, one study found baical skullcap to be effective against 10 strains of Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcers, while another showed it to have anti-fungal properties against candida species.
Allergy sufferers might think to use baical skullcap, which has been shown to reduce allergy-related swelling and inflammation. Baicalin has also been shown to reduce the release of histamine and leukotriene release from mast cells, hence targeting the origin of allergy and assisting with symptom control at this initial phase before symptoms progress.
As an anti-inflammatory, baicalin has also been shown to combine with the natural substance catechin to be as effective as the pharmaceutical drug naproxen in relieving osteoarthritis.
Liver, heart and cancer
When it comes to liver support, baical skullcap has a long tradition of use. Strong evidence is lacking in support of this, although positive studies do exist. Laboratory studies have found that both baicalin and baicalein, two active constituents of baical skullcap, increase the flow of bile in rabbits, while baicalein also acts as a protective agent against liver damage. And in a study of 268 patients with both infective and chronic hepatitis, baical skullcap was found to be effective in both groups after a treatment period of one month.
Quite a lot of research exists assessing the role baical skullcap may play in the fight against cancer. Across the many studies performed, baical skullcap has displayed the ability to reduce the development, maturation and spread of cancer cells as well as to protect cells against the effects of cancer-causing agents. These effects have been tested against specific cancers, including liver, uterine, skin, kidney, breast, lung, cervical, mouth, throat, bowel, pancreas and prostate cancers as well as leukaemia.
While this sounds very comprehensive, most of these tests are in vitro and/or animal studies. More clinical evidence and human studies are needed. One human study used a water-extracted form of baical skullcap in advanced breast cancer and found the extract slowed disease progression and reduced tumour size in some patients. Also relevant to baical skullcap’s potential role in cancer support was the finding that an extract of this herb enhanced the effect of 5-fluorouracil chemotherapy in rats with liver cancer while also reducing the toxicity of this drug.
Baical skullcap displays an interesting complement of actions in the cardiovascular system. The active constituents baicalein, wogonin and other flavonoids have been found to help with blood thinning through anti-platelet properties, while the whole herb, as well as individual constituents, have been found to be diuretic. Another study found baicalein to be anticoagulant. With three separate actions benefiting the cardiovascular system and a low toxicity, this is a fantastic example of the complexity and synergistic nature of herbs and herbal medicine.
Taking baical skullcap
Baical skullcap is available in tablet form, as a dried herb and as an ethanol extract. Dosage needs to be determined by your practitioner as definitive dosages have not been established in research to date. This herb is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding due to lack of research on its safety. Caution needs to be used with people taking cancer drugs, diuretic medication, sedative medication and any medication metabolised through the cytochrome P450 pathways.
References available on request.
Kate Mirow is a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and homœopath practising at Your Health in Manly, NSW. She specialises in fertility and weight loss while also seeing a myriad of other health conditions. T: Your Health on (02) 9977 7888.