The story appears on

Page B1 - B2

April 12, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Weird and wonder ful pills

BEZOAR or cow gallstone, the dung of flying squirrels and larva shells of cicadas are among highly prized and little known TCM ingredients. And the bezoar market is booming, according to Zhang Qian.

Although high prices for old wild ginseng, bird's nest, aweto and ganoderma are widely accepted, the sky-high price of a Chinese patent medicine containing pre-1993 cow bezoar far surpasses them all. It's a "golden" gallstone.

Bovine bezoar, formed in the gallstone of a sick animal, has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and is said to have almost magical curative properties.

It is sometimes considered to be a family treasure, heirloom and investment - passed down through generations and used in emergencies until help arrives. It is used to treat convulsions, stroke, epilepsy, heart attack, unconsciousness, reduce fever and alleviate pain.

Since it comes from the digestive tract, it is commonly used to treat digestive problems.

But recently the prices of TCM patent drug "An Gong Niu Huang Wan" (Bovine Bezoar Bolus for Revival) have soared to record heights, as have as online claims for its curative power for a range of ailments, especially brain-related.

Bezoar is the largest ingredient, but the medicine also contains 10 others, including rhinoceros horn (now banned), musk (banned) and pearl.

On, China's equivalent to, "An Gong Niu Huang Wan" produced before 1994 (when use of wild animal parts and organs was banned) now sells for more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,530) for each compounded bolus; the highest price seen recently was 50,000 yuan for each pill containing powdered bezoar.

These also carry "certification" that they predate 1993 and are not synthesized in a laboratory like the legal pills today. Sale of existing stock is not illegal.

The rumor goes that the older the bezoar, the better the effect and that a natural bezoar in the old medicine is more effective than synthesized drugs. In TCM, old wild herbs and ingredients, such as ginseng, are considered more potent than farm-raised or synthesized though they are chemically identical.

In addition, in TCM's theory of correspondence, an animal's heart benefits a human heart, a brain (or walnut shaped like a cortex) benefits the brain - and, thus, and an intestinal concretion like a bezoar benefits the digestion.

Experts point out, however, that there's generally a five-year shelf life for bezoar and other patent medicines.

Among other things, bezoars of cows, oxen, buffalo and other ruminants contain taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid that has anti-convulsive properties and dilates blood vessels. Turine also contains cholic acid, deooxycholic acid, biliruben and other compounds.

"'An Gong Niu Huang Wan' is a TCM patent drug that helps dispel pathogenic heat, clear away toxins, open orifices and tranquilize the mind," says Qian Hai, associate professor at Shanghai University of TCM.

"It is widely used as effective first-aid medicine for serious problems like coma/sudden unconsciousness and continuous high fever due to stroke or serious brain damage," he says.

It accelerates a patient's return to consciousness, he adds.

It's an indispensable part of the TCM arsenal.

Use of bezoar was first recorded in "Wen Bing Tiao Bian" ("Differentiation of Epidemic Diseases") by Wu Tang in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

In 1993 China banned the use of animal parts, like rhinoceros horn and tiger bones, for use in TCM prescriptions. The rhino horn in "An Gong Niu Huang Wan" was replaced by condensed buffalo horn powder. Bezoar and musk were synthesized.

"Doctors believed that synthetic ingredients could work just as well since they share the same chemical elements," says Qian, "but clinical experience disproved our expectation."

In TCM, prescriptions are usually based on combinations of herbs and natural elements; many do not exist alone, but in combinations.

Ancient Chinese believed that everything in the universe has its rival/opposite that can help relieve and cure certain ailments.

The most commonly discussed ones are the five elements - wood, earth, water, fire and metal - that compose the world.

The rule goes that wood restricts earth, as trees absorb nutrition from the earth; earth restricts water, as earth can hold water in it; water restricts fire, as water can extinguish fire; fire restricts metal as metal will melt when heated by fire; and metal restricts wood as tools made of metal can cut trees down.

These rules also work when adopted in medical concepts.

And the task of doctors is to identify them and find the solutions.

"Animal, vegetable and mineral - for TCM, everything in the universe can help one way or another to relieve certain ailments, no matter how useless it may seem," says Qian. "And in many cases, they cannot be completely replaced by synthetic ingredients.

In addition to cow bezoar, there are many seemingly useless materials that are considered effective medicine in TCM. Just a few: silkworm dung, membrane of chicken's gizzard; eggshell membrane; squirrel dung; larva shell of a cicada; "earstone" (head bone) of yellow croaker fish.Can sha Dung of silkworms

Silkworm droppings are a "warm" (yang energy) TCM ingredient that helps dispel pathogenic cold, dampness and wind, activate blood circulation and benefit the spleen. It is mostly used to relieve digestive problems and numbness associated with rheumatism.

It can be taken internally as a tea or decoction, or applied externally to painful joints.

It is frequently used to make herbal sleeping pillows; these are said to relieve insomnia, headache, reduce high blood pressure, benefit the liver and improve eyesight.Ji nei jin Chicken gizzard membrane

The gizzard is part of the digestive system for grinding food, typically with grit. The surrounding yellow membrane is usually discarded, but in TCM it is used to improve digestion.

Ji nei jin is a "neutral" food in TCM. It is also used to treat kidney stones, gallstones and bladder stones and can relieve nocturnal emission.

Research shows that gastric hormone, keratin and amino acids in the membrane help increase gastric acid secretion, thus improving digestion.

The membrane is usually processed by drying, frying and grinding. It can be made into a decoction with herbs.Feng huang yi Eggshell membrane

This membrane, literally "phoenix cloth" in Chinese, is mildly "cold" (yin energy) and helps nourish yin and relieve inflammation and associated pain. It is widely prescribed for persistent cough, sore throat, ulcers and various wounds.

It is usually cooked with herbs for coughing and sore throat. It can be ground into powder and applied externally, on a mouth ulcer, for instance, to promote healing.Chan tui Periostracum/larval shell of a cicada

The larva shell left behind on trees by cicadas is a treasure in TCM. It is a "cold" (yin) element that helps dispel pathogenic heat and wind. Thus, it is used to treat coughing, sore throat and external inflammation

It is usually cooked with herbs and decocted. Dried and ground powder can be applied externally on inflamed areas.Yu nao shi Yellow croaker otolith/earstone

It literally means "stone in fish's head," and they are the tiny earstones that help fish hear and balance.

In TCM the earstone is a "neutral" element that helps resolve gallstones and other stones, relieve inflammation and act as a diuretic. It is widely prescribed ear infection, gall, bladder and kidney stones and for nasal membrane inflammation form a cold.

Earstones in yellow croaker are usually big and white, easy to locate. That's why they are used in TCM.Wu ling zhi Rogopterus/flying squirrel's dung

Flying squirrel droppings looks like ?bitty cream? and contains the energy of the five elements, according to Li Shizhen, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) herbalist who compiled "Ben Cao Gang Mu" ("Compendium of Materia Medica").

The dung is a "warm" (yang) element that travels through the liver meridian, helps dispel blood stagnation, unblocks blood and energy channels and relieves pain.

It is used to treat menstrual problems and inflammation and pain from wounds and insect and snake bites.

It can be brewed with herbs or applied externally.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend