Whether you scoff at traditional healing or swear by it, there are some practices and medicines that have been positively impacting human health for centuries. Modern scientific analysis can give us a greater understanding of how these remedies work, including the Japanese carrot-based herbal medicine Ninjin'yoeito.
It’s a medicine commonly used by elderly patients with deteriorating physical or cognitive health, but has been shown to improve depression in sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease and is also used to build the strength of those recovering from anorexia or serious surgery.
This traditional value of Ninjin'yoeito in growing physical strength has been explained by research on ageing mice. The mice’s muscle loss was improved through the activation of a specific protein known as PGC-1α after the elderly rodents were given a dose of Ninjin'yoeito.
That led researchers to explore what Ninjin'yoeito might do for patients struggling with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of harmful gases such as cigarette smoke that results in a deterioration of muscle tissue.
This in turn causes COPD patients to avoid exercise which then further weakens their lungs in a vicious cycle.
To see if Ninjin'yoeito could help, a research group from Osaka City University in Japan added it to the diet of mice who had been exposed to cigarette smoke for 12 weeks.
The scientists then measured the lower-leg muscle mass of the mice with a micro-CT scanner and found that while the control group’s muscle mass had atrophied, the group that was given the Ninjin'yoeito supplement was not.
Something in the carrot-based remedy, then, appeared to have enabled the mice to maintain their strength.
Associate Professor Kazuhisa Asai, who led the study, said: "We believe that this is a useful finding and that Ninjin'yoeito may break the vicious circle of sarcopenia frailty in COPD patients. We would like to consider clinical trials in the future."