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Evidence Shows that Peony can Prevent or Delay Memory Loss

Peony is used today as a single remedy or in combination with other herbs to ease emotional nervous conditions. It is also used to:

  • enhance mental function15161718192021222324
  • improve liver function
  • help prevent liver damage from chemical toxins such as carbon tetrachloride4
  • treat viral hepatitis5
  • lower cholesterol levels6
  • normalize blood pressure2
  • inhibit blood platelet aggregation (blood clotting)7
  • improve fertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome8
  • relieve muscle cramps due to diabetes, dialysis, and cirrhosis of the liver9

The history of using herbs for the treatment of different health problems has been well documented, and recent scientific research has validated their effectiveness. The Chinese botanicals have been among the most impressive in this regard. Numerous Chinese traditional herbs have been shown to have beneficial properties for memory problems, and peony has been one of those with the most exciting scientific research.

The peony flower grows wild in China, where it is called Shao Yao for “most beautiful,” and comes in a variety of colors ranging from light pink to dark maroon. It is also cultivated as an ornamental plant throughout the world.

Peony is named for the mythical Greek figure Paeon, who was said to be a student of the illustrious physician Aesculapius.1 Peony root has been used as a diuretic, sedative, and tonic, and is known for its antispasmodic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects. The ancient Greeks used it to treat epilepsy and promote menstruation. European herbalists used the root as an antispasmodic and to soothe nerves.

Additionally, different color flowers were used for different ailments. In Chinese medicine, Bai shao or white peony was used to treat hypertension, chest pain, muscle cramping and spasms, and fever.1

Chi shao or red peony was used for various conditions pertaining to blood, such as bleeding or restricted blood flow, nosebleeds, bleeding wounds, and excessive menstrual bleeding.2 It was also used to treat female problems including painful and irregular menstruation.2 In fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is one of the most widely used herbs to treat menstrual cramps and menstrual irregularities.3

Active Constituents

Chinese scientists recently discovered three new glycosides in peony,10 including a unique monoterpenoid glycoside called paeoniflorin, which calms nerves and alleviates muscle spasm. Even more exciting is the Japanese discovery of paeoniflorin’s ability to improve memory in animal studies, suggesting a potential benefit for dementia.11

Paeoniflorin, proanthocyanidins, and flavonoids have also demonstrated antioxidant activity in test tubes.12 Additionally, polysaccharides found in peony bark and root have shown an ability to stimulate the immune system.1314

Peony and Heat Shock Proteins

Heat Shock Proteins are one of nature’s most important protectors. As their name suggests, they were first discovered when studying the damaging effects of heat on cellular functioning. Because all living things use proteins to direct cellular functions, and heat causes proteins to lose their activity, Heat Shock Proteins are found in all living things to stabilize proteins when presented with heat stress. Ultimately, it was discovered that Heat Shock Proteins are produced at all times in living cells to help properly maintain protein functioning, and are dramatically increased when cells are stressed with heat, free radicals, or toxins. Life itself would not be possible without this Heat Shock Protein system.

One of the most amazing findings in the research into how peony has so many beneficial properties was the discovery that paeoniflorin, the unique phytochemical found in peony, has the ability to increase Heat Shock Protein production.15

Even more impressive, paeoniflorin not only increased Heat Shock Protein levels in unstressed cells, but also dramatically enhanced the cells ability to increase Heat Shock Protein production when faced with stress. Heat Shock Proteins are believed to play a major role in many diseases. The recent discovery that paeoniflorin can enhance one of our bodies most important protective mechanisms should broaden peony and paeoniflorin’s potential to be useful in a wide variety of diseases, and even the aging process itself.

Supports healthy brain function

Although peony has not yet been studied in human clinical trials, numerous recent animal studies indicate that it may be beneficial in the fight against dementia.

  • Exerts a protective effect on animals with cerebral ischemia (stroke).161718
  • Helps animals recover more quickly from stroke.19
  • Stimulates the hippocampus—which is in the brain’s temporal lobe, and is responsible for storing new information—in memory-impaired rodents, to enhance learning and memory. This is significant because in humans Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect the hippocampus first, before other parts of the brain.20
  • Ameliorates spatial cognitive impairment in animals given an amnesia-producing drug.212223
  • Exerts a protective effect on brain neurons in animals during epileptic seizures.24
  • Improves the ability to learn in animals with age-related learning deficits. The scientists concluded that peony has the therapeutic potential to treat senile dementia and aging-induced cognitive dysfunction.25

What makes peony special?

While other herbs have been found to improve memory in animals with age-related and chemically induced memory loss, peony has a special distinction among these herbs. In much of the research on herbal memory-enhancing products the herbal extract must be given by injection because oral intake is much less effective, or even ineffective. Also, these herbs are often given in unrealistically high doses that do not correspond to typical traditional human intakes. Peony, and its unique phytochemical paeoniflorin, is very different because it is orally effective in very small doses. In fact, paeoniflorin is effective at doses as low as the equivalent of an adult person consuming only 700 micrograms daily. This is LESS THAN one milligram a day. Amazingly, higher doses of paeoniflorin are even more effective over a wide range of intake and have no side effects or toxicity.

Peony has been proven to counteract chemically induced memory loss, which is where scientists use chemicals that are known to disrupt memory and then see if an herbal extract can prevent memory problems. This is a common animal research model for discovering potential memory-enhancing herbs. However, this does not always discover effective herbs that work in the real world of age-related memory loss, because many herbs active at preventing chemically-induced memory loss do not improve memory problems caused by normal aging. Peony is special because it is very effective at improving BOTH chemical and age-related memory losses in low doses. Not suprisingly, this has excited many scientists who now consider peony, and its unique phytochemical paeoniflorin, a potential major weapon in the fight against age-related memory problems. Unfortunately, as with most traditional herbs that have impressed scientists by their potential health benefits, but are not patentable, the day when doctors routinely use peony to treat memory problems may never come.

How safe is peony?

Peony is extremely safe when used according to the recommended dosage. It should not be used by pregnant or lactating women, or children. There are no known drug interactions with peony.

Conclusion

Traditional Chinese Medicines, like peony, have a promising role in the early treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. One of its chief benefits is that it has low toxicity compared with pharmaceutical drugs. Medical professionals agree that the sooner treatment is started the better the outcome. In order to prevent and/or delay memory loss, consider adding this safe and promising herb to your daily supplement regime.

References

  1. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992:200–7.
  2. Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk T. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, rev ed, Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993:331–2.
  3. Kotani N, Oyama T, Hashimoto H, et al. Analgesic effect of a herbal medicine for treatment of primary dysmenorrhea—a double-blind study. Am J Chin Med 1997;25:205–12.
  4. Qi XG. Protective mechanism of Salvia miltiorrhiza and Paeonia lactiflora for experimental liver damage. Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1991;11:69, 102–4 [in Chinese].
  5. Wang CB, Chang AM. Plasma thromboxane B2 changes in severe icteric hepatitis treated by traditional Chinese medicine—dispelling the pathogenic heat from blood, promoting blood circulation and administrating large doses of radix Paeoniae—a report of 6 cases.Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1985;5:326–8, 322 [in Chinese].
  6. Zhang Y. The effects of nifedipine, diltiazem, and Paeonia lactiflora Pall. on atherogenesis in rabbits. Chung Hua Hsin Hsueh Kuan Ping Tsa Chih 1991;19:100–3 [in Chinese].
  7. Liu J. Effect of Paeonia obovata 801 on metabolism of thromboxane B2 and arachidonic acid and on platelet aggregation in patients with coronary heart disease and cerebral thrombosis.Chung Hua I Hsueh Tsa Chih (Chin Med J) 1983;63:477–81 [in Chinese].
  8. Takahashi K, Kitao M. Effect of TJ-68 (shakuyaku-kanzo-to) on polycystic ovarian disease. Int J Fertil Menopausal Stud1994;39:69–76.
  9. Yamashita JI. Effect of Tsumura skakuyaku-kanzo-to on pain at muscle twitch during and after dialysis in the patients undergoing dialysis. Pain and Kampo Medicine 1992;2:18–20.
  10. Wu SH, Luo XD, Ma YB, Hao XJ, Wu DG. Monoterpenoid derivatives from Paeonia delavayi. J Asian Nat Prod Res. 2002 Jun;4(2):135-40.
  11. Watanabe H. Candidates for cognitive enhancer extracted from medicinal plants: paeoniflorin and tetramethylpyrazine. Behav Brain Res. 1997 Feb;83(1-2):135-41.
  12.  Okubo T, Nagai F, Seto T, et al. The inhibition of phenylhydroquinone-induced oxidative DNA cleavage by constituents of Moutan Cortex and Paeoniae Radix. Biol Pharm Bull 2000;23:199–203.
  13. Tomoda M, Matsumoto K, Shimizu N, et al. Characterization of a neutral and an acidic polysaccharide having immunological activities from the root of Paeonia lactiflora. Biol Pharm Bull1993;16:1207–10.
  14. Tomoda M, Matsumoto K, Shimizu N, et al. An acidic polysaccharide with immunological activities from the root of Paeonia lactiflora. Biol Pharm Bull 1994;17:1161–4.
  15. Yan D, Saito K, Ohmi Y, Fujie N, Ohtsuka K. Paeoniflorin, a novel heat shock protein-inducing compound. Cell Stress Chaperones. 2004 Winter;9(4):378-89.
  16. Yang J, Wang J, Liu C. [Protective effects of total paeony glycoside on cerebral ischemia mice] [Article in Chinese] Zhong Yao Cai. 2001 Feb;24(2):124-6.
  17. Dong XP, Xu TL. Radix paeoniae rubra suppression of sodium current in acutely dissociated rat hippocampal CA1 neurons. Brain Res. 2002 Jun 14;940(1-2):1-9.
  18. Yang J, Wang J, Feng P, Li Y, Ma C, Xu S. [Protective effect of total paeony glycoside against cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury in mice][Article in Chinese] Zhong Yao Cai. 2000 Feb;23(2):95-7.
  19. Liu J, Jin DZ, Xiao L, Zhu XZ. Paeoniflorin attenuates chronic cerebral hypoperfusion-induced learning dysfunction and brain damage in rats. Brain Res. 2006 May 17;1089(1):162-70.
  20. Tabata K, Matsumoto K, Murakami Y, Watanabe H. Ameliorative effects of paeoniflorin, a major constituent of peony root, on adenosine A1 receptor-mediated impairment of passive avoidance performance and long-term potentiation in the hippocampus. Biol Pharm Bull. 2001 May;24(5):496-500.
  21. Tabata K, Matsumoto K, Watanabe H. Paeoniflorin, a major constituent of peony root, reverses muscarinic M1-receptor antagonist-induced suppression of long-term potentiation in the rat hippocampal slice. Jpn J Pharmacol. 2000 May;83(1):25-30.
  22. Ohta H, Matsumoto K, Watanabe H, Shimizu M. Involvement of beta-adrenergic systems in the antagonizing effect of paeoniflorin on the scopolamine-induced deficit in radial maze performance in rats. Jpn J Pharmacol. 1993 Aug;62(4):345-9.
  23. Ohta H, Ni JW, Matsumoto K, Watanabe H, Shimizu M. Peony and its major constituent, paeoniflorin, improve radial maze performance impaired by scopolamine in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1993 Jul;45(3):719-23.
  24. Tsuda T, Sugaya A, Ohguchi H, Kishida N, Sugaya E. Protective effects of peony root extract and its components on neuron damage in the hippocampus induced by the cobalt focus epilepsy model.Exp Neurol. 1997 Aug;146(2):518-25.
  25. Ohta H, Matsumoto K, Shimizu M, Watanabe H. Paeoniflorin attenuates learning impairment of aged rats in operant brightness discrimination task. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1994 Sep;49(1):213-7.

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