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HEALTH REPORT - Chinese Herbal Drug May Help with a Form of Dementia - 2003-06-24

Broadcast: June 25, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A small study in China suggests that an herbal medicine may improve the lives of people with a brain condition called vascular dementia. Victims of vascular dementia have problems with memory and thinking. Many cannot work or carry out everyday activities such as bathing or cooking.

Vascular dementia is caused by small strokes in the brain. It generally affects between one and three percent of people. It is one of the most common forms of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctors at the Dongzhimen Hospital of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine did the study. They reported their findings at an Asia Pacific meeting of the American Heart Association. The Scientific Forum took place in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The doctors were seeking a less costly way to treat vascular dementia than drugs now used. They also wanted to find a treatment that had few bad effects on patients. So they tested an herbal medicine that has been used in China for hundreds of years to treat dizziness and headaches.

It called gastrodine compound granule. It comes from tall gastrodia tuber plants and six other herbs. And it is described as the first of some new herbal drugs to be tested in people as possible treatments for dementia.

The study involved one-hundred-twenty people with mild vascular dementia following strokes. They were divided into two groups. One group took about three milligrams of gastrodine three times a day for twelve weeks. The second group took forty milligrams of a stroke treatment drug called Duxila three times a day for twelve weeks.

The doctors reported that at the end of three months, both groups showed similar improvement in memory, mathematics and language. The group that took gastrodine had higher scores than the other group on a test of activities of daily living. The doctors say the gastrodine group also suffered fewer side effects of the treatment. In addition, the study found that the gastrodine may improve blood flow in the brain.

But more studies are needed. About half the people in both groups did not improve at all. The researchers say studies with larger numbers of people and for longer periods of time will help show if gastrodine is a good choice to treat vascular dementia.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.