If you watch television or read newspapers and magazines, you will no doubt have read/heard reports that natural medicines don’t work. That, when it comes to our health, the only option we have involves taking synthetic, chemically-manufactured drugs. However, human beings have been using what nature has to offer for thousands of years – very successfully. So successfully that pharmaceutical companies have used nature as a basis for their drugs – but when you change something from its natural state into a synthetic version, it no longer works.
So for those with bone, tendon or ligament problems, this article may be of interest to you:
Eucommia ulmoides (EU) also known as ‘Du Zhong’ in the Chinese language, has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a yang tonic for the kidneys and liver and as a bone and sinew (tendon) strengthener. In TCM it is indicated for bone weakness and pain in the lower back, joint pain or weakness particularly in the knees, and muscular and tendon weakness in general. In this article we take a look at recent studies examining its effects on bone dynamics under adverse conditions such as heavy metal exposure, the presence of sub-optimal hormone levels, immune dysregulation and chronic bone conditions.
Bone Protective Effects
In a newly published preclinical, randomised trial EU extract exhibited a protective effect on bone under conditions of lead poisoning. EU helped maintain bone mineral density, serum calcium and serum phosphorus levels under conditions of constant lead poisoning for 60 days. It also inhibited bone resorption by significantly mitigating bone density losses in the lumbar spine and femur bones of the treated rats when compared to lead-exposed rats who did not receive the herb. In the lead-exposed, EU extract treated group levels of ALP, osteocalcin and receptor activator of nuclear kappa B ligand (RANKL) were held in check compared to the lead-only treated group, thereby mitigating heavy-metal-induced bone resorption.(1)
Bone Growth Effects
In recent cell culture studies, EU extract treated osteoblasts showed significant sustained increased growth rates in a dose-dependent manner when compared to controls. Additionally, the biomarkers ALP, osteocalcin, and collagen 1 levels all increased significantly compared to controls. These findings suggest that EU may exert bone growth effects via bolstering osteoblast activity and that the biomarkers ALP, osteocalcin and collagen 1, along with TGF- B1 gene expression are likely to be involved in the mechanism of action. (2)
EU extract has been shown to slow the progression of osteoarthritis by inhibiting the P13K/Akt cell signalling pathway. Inhibition of this pathway reduces inflammatory cytokine levels, which mitigates bone loss and bone structure loss. (3,4)
Immune and bone cells are both situated in the bone marrow and share many regulatory and signalling molecules, as well as transcription factors. Abnormal immune activation alters the balance between bone formation by osteoblasts and bone resorption by osteoclasts, causing osteoporosis. Herbs that work both as immunomodulators and anti-osteoporotic agents, such as EU, can play a unique role in mitigating osteoporosis. (5, 6)
Initial evidence from in vivo preclinical studies show that EU extract improves bone density and trabecular microarchitecture under conditions of simulated menopause. It achieves this anti-osteoporotic effect mainly through promoting bone growth by osteoblastic cell proliferation and by inhibiting osteoclastic bone breakdown.(7,8) In vitro evidence points to this occurring primarily by initiating an increase in osteoprotegerin (OPG) which is an inhibitor of osteoclastic activity, and a decrease in RANKL- a bone resorption promoter. (9)
Joint Protective Effects
In an in vivo rheumatoid arthritis animal model study EU extract at 1000 ug/L and administered at a dose of 5.4 mg/kg once daily, significantly reduced joint swelling compared to controls. EU was also tested in a cell culture model using human RA fibroblast-like synoviocytes, where it inhibited cell proliferation by up to 50% compared to control cultures. The beneficial effects are likely engendered by down-regulating the inflammatory cytokines in joint tissue (IL17, IL1-B, TNF-alpha) and upregulation of the anti-inflammatory cytokine, IL10. This results in upregulation of OPG and downregulation of RANKL expression, which together, help prevent bone tissue degradation. (10)
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine Evidence
As the small, but growing body of western medical research into EU’s properties is beginning to show, many of it’s traditional properties exhibit medical, as well as traditional validity. Some of these pharmacological effects are beginning to help us highlight the mechanisms through which this versatile herb assists the musculoskeletal system. See Table 1. below comparing the TCM and the pharmacological activities of the herb.
Table 1. Du Zhong TCM Properties & Western Medicine’s Eucommia ulmoides Pharmacological Activity
EU exhibits a diverse array of protective mechanisms for helping to maintain bone density, structure and function. It exerts these therapeutic effects under a wide range of challenging health conditions. It can therefore be considered as a great all-round bone protecting herb.
Article courtesy of InterClinical Laboratories, supporting natural medicine
The long history of Traditional Chinese medicine use of EU for bone and joint strengthening is mirrored by the initial pre-clinical findings of bone protection, anti-osteoporotic effects, anti-osteoarthritic and bone conserving effects in recent medical literature and reinforces its historical use as a Traditional Chinese bone muscle and tendon strengthener.
- Qi S, Zheng H, Chen C, Jiang H. Du -Zhong (Eucommia ulmoides Oliv.) cortex extract alleviates lead acetate-induced bone loss in rats. Biological trace element research. 2019;187(1):172-80
- Liang H, Yu F, Liu X, Yuan B, Zhao Z, Wu S. Effect of Eucommia ulmoides extract on osteoblast proliferation. Tropical journal of pharmaceutical research. 2017;16 (110:2675-9.
- Xie GP, Jiang N, Wang SN, Qi RZ, Wang L, Zhao PR, Liang L, Yu B. Eucommia ulmoides Oliv. bark aqueous extract inhibits osteoarthritis in a rat model of osteoarthritis. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2015; 162:148-54.
- Kwon SH, Ma SX, Hwang JY, Ko YH, Seo JY, Lee BR, Lee SY, Jang CG. The anti-inflammatory activity of Eucommia ulmoides Oliv. bark. involves NF-κB suppression and Nrf2- dependent HO-1 induction in BV-2 microglial cells. Biomolecules & therapeutics. 2016;24(3):268.
- Zhang R, Pan Y, Kong X, Juan W, Mei Q. Effects of total lignans from Eucommia ulmoides bark prevents bone loss in vivo and invitro.
- Wang C, Tang L, He J, Li J, Wang Y. Ethnobotany, phytochemistry and pharmacological properties of eucommia ulmoides: a review. College of biological resources and environmental sciences. 2019;47 (2); 1-42
- Zhang R, Liu G, Li C, Hu S, Liu L, Wang J et al. Dhu Zhong (Eucommia ulmoides Oliv. cortex extract prevents ovx – induced osteoporo sis in rats. Bone 2009
- Li Y, Wan M, Li S, Zang Y, Zhao Y, Xie R et al. Effect on total glycosides from Eucommia ulmoides seed on bone microarchitecture in rats. Phytotherapy research. 2011; 25(12):1895-7
- Zhao H, Zhao N, Zheng ZP, Xu X, Liu M, Luo D et al. Prevention and treatment of osteoporosis using Chinese medicinal plants: special emphasis on mechanism of immune modulation. Journal of immunology research. 2018; 1-11.
- Wang JY, Yuan Y, Chen XJ, Fu SG, Zhang L, Hong YL et al. Extract from Eucommia ulmoides Oliv. ameliorates arthritis via regulation of inflammation, synoviocyte proliferation and osteoclastogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2016;194:609-16.