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Six Reasons Why Bupleurum Is Used for Liver Health

Learn about the many strengths of sho-saiko-to’s main ingredient, Bupleurum – and find out why sho-saiko-to is considered to be one of the most effective liver support formulas worldwide.

When it comes to chronic liver disease, Western medicine is limited in its therapeutic applications. However, finding approaches to complement Western medical treatment can help prevent liver disease from advancing. Most cultures have been using herbs to counter the damage done by liver disease for centuries. Although the superiority of the scientific method has cast a shadow of disbelief over many herbal traditions, it has also proven that some herbs can actually rival modern medicine.

As one of the oldest documented systems of herbal medicine, Chinese herbalism has been supplying healthcare practitioners with a plethora of effective chronic disease remedies for centuries. Designed to address the complex needs of an individual, Chinese herbal medicine primarily revolves around balanced formulas addressing both cause and symptom. While the strength of Chinese herbal medicine lay in the synergism of a formula’s ingredients, a specific component of a well-documented liver support formula has repeatedly demonstrated its validity in the laboratory.

There are five basic ways herbal medicine can support the liver, halting the progression of liver disease:

1. Protect the liver from further damage.
2. Reduce hepatic inflammation.
3. Minimize the risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.
4. Support the immune system.
5. Help the liver synthesize new cells for its repair.

Showing great promise for chronic liver disease, one of the most widely researched Chinese herbal formulas is Minor Bupleurum. Known in Japanese as sho-saiko-to, this herbal combination has been used for over a thousand years and is probably the most popular herbal formula in Japan today. Primarily recommended for liver disease, Japanese physicians write over a million prescriptions for sho-saiko-to each year. Consisting of seven different ingredients, sho-saiko-to has demonstrated the following:

· Sho-saiko-to may be useful in delaying or preventing the onset of liver cancer in some with cirrhosis of the liver.

· Sho-saiko-to may be a useful cancer preventative for those with cirrhosis of the liver.

· Sho-saiko-to has been shown in animal studies to have anti-fibrotic and anti-cancer activity.

· Sho-saiko-to can increase the production of cytokines, chemicals that immune cells use to signal one another.

Bupleurum’s Strengths
Since any combination of items is only as powerful as the sum of its parts, looking at the components of sho-saiko-to explains where this formula’s strength comes from. Although there are seven ingredients in sho-saiko-to, only one is considered to be the monarch, or the formula’s main focus. Sho-saiko-to’s monarch is chai hu, better known to Westerners as Bupleurum.

As the monarch of sho-saiko-to, bupleurum is responsible for directing this formula’s purpose. Bupleurum’s traditional role as a liver tonic has been substantiated by decades of clinical research. Test tube studies have demonstrated the following:

1. Bupleurum demonstrates antiviral properties. Bupleurum has been shown to inactivate enveloped viruses including measles and herpes, but had no effect on non-enveloped viruses such as polio. Bupleurum may be helpful in the inactivation of certain hepatitis viruses.

2. Bupleurum acts as an anti-inflammatory. The saikosaponins found in bupleurum stimulate corticosteroid production, thus increasing the anti-inflammatory effects.

3. Saikosaponins can inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells.

4. Saikosaponins have been found to help lower plasma cholesterol.

5. Capable of shielding the liver from damage, saikosaponins demonstrated marked hepatoprotective activity in several animal models.

6. Shown to expedite the healing of an injured liver, saikosaponins increase hepatic protein synthesis both in vitro and in vivo.

Bupleurum’s Weaknesses
Although containing six powerful characteristics to aid liver health, bupleurum is not a cure-all for chronic liver disease. Because of a lack of human clinical studies translated from Chinese or Japanese into English, bupleurum is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Since it is only one/seventh of the ingredient list for sho-saiko-to, it is not clear if the following cautions are due to the comprehensive formula or the individual herb:

· Sho-saiko-to taken as a tea has been reported to cause an upset stomach, an effect lessened by taking with food or in capsules.

· Interferon medication is contraindicated with bupleurum. On rare occasions, drug-induced pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs) has been associated with the use of sho-saiko-to with interferon. Until more is known, sho-saiko-to should not be combined with interferon.

· One study demonstrated sho-saiko-to should not be combined with Tolbutamide due to reduction of this drug’s bioavailability.

· People who have nosebleeds, headaches caused by high blood pressure or a chronic, dry cough may have their symptoms aggravated by bupleurum.

· Sho-saiko-to is not recommended for patients who are both diagnosed with cirrhosis and have a low platelet count.

Since human illness is the result of imbalances affecting multiple body systems, solutions addressing both the cause of the imbalance as well as its subsequent manifestations are most successful. As such, Chinese herbalists rarely use a single herbal prescription, even if packed with the benefits of bupleurum. Although a powerful liver tonic herb, bupleurum strength’s are best realized when included as part of a formula.

Regardless of the profile of each of its seven ingredients, sho-saiko-to’s star is definitely bupleurum. Due to its ability to protect the liver from further damage, reduce inflammation, minimize the risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer, support the immune system and help the liver synthesize new cells for its repair; bupleurum is the reason sho-saiko-to is one of the most effective liver support formulas worldwide.

Cheng, PW, et al, Bupleurum kaoi inhibits Coxsackie B virus type 1 infection of CCFS-1 cells by induction of type I interferons expression, Food and Chemical Toxicology, January 2007.

Kenner, Dan, Research in Japanese Botanical Medicine and Immune Modulating Cancer Therapy – Kampo, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, August 2001.

McLeod, David, The Herbal Management of Cancer, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, August 2001.

Wang, Rubin, et al, A survey of Chinese herbal ingredients with liver protection activities, Chinese Medicine, May 2007., Xiao Chai Hu Tang, Brion Herbs, 2007., Bupleurum, Penton Media, Inc., 2007., Bupleurum,, 2007., Bupleurum, Healthnotes, Inc., 2007., Herb-Drug Interactions, John K. Chen, Ph.D., Pharm., O.M.D., L.Ac., Evergreen Herbs and Medical Supplies, LLC, 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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