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Genetics researchers from Taiwan's National Central University have determined that over a third of herbal medicines used in Traditional Chinese Medicine - and nearly all leading therapeutic herbs - alter our genes or alter enzymes that alter our genetic material.
The researchers analyzed 3,294 traditional Chinese medicines – combinations of herbs – and found that 1,170 or 36% will interact with enzymes that alter the histones that lie within our chromosome material.
And of those that interact with or modify those enzymes, 56% will promote what is called chromatin condensation.
Chromatin is the complex of DNA and protein material that our cells' nucleus is made of. Through the histone enzymes, chromatin will bind up and prepare for cell division, allowing a copy of our DNA to be made during mitosis.
Chromatin condensation occurs during the cell's reproductive cycle – as cells divide. During the interphase step the chromatin is loosely mixed, and then during the prophase step the chromatin will condense and the chromosomes will become visible to microscopic observation. This condensed state continues one through the next stages of mitosis until the cell successfully divides.
The histones organize the DNA during this chromatin condensation process. The relates directly to DNA repair.
99% of approved herbs alter genes
The researchers also found that 99% of the 200 most effective herbal formulas that have been approved by the government of Taiwan altered the nucleus histone.
Furthermore, the researchers found a correlation between traditional Chinese medicine hot or cold characteristics as they processed the analysis of the herbs. They also found that some of the alteration occurred through a process called methylation, which occurs as methyl groups are displaced and replaced in order to neutralize radicals.
The fact that so many herbal medicines interact with the histones of the body's cells is critical to understanding the importance of the herbal medicine from both a macro and microscopic view.
From the macro view, we see from this research that herbal medicines are designed to interact with our DNA and our cells' reproductive processes because nature is intelligent.
From the microscopic view, we can understand at least part of the mechanisms that explain how herbal medicines can have such a deep and powerful medicinal effect.
This research confirms a study published in 2011 that found nearly 30% of those herbal medicines tested alter the miRNA of cells, and modify our genetic epigenome.
Herbal medicines are known to have long-lasting curative effects upon the body. This is typically different than chemical medicines that contain one or two isolated active chemical. A single herb will typically have tens if not hundreds of active constituents, each having an effect upon the body. When they are combined, they effect the body's metabolism by interacting with the immune system, organ functions, different tissue systems and nerve cells.
From this research we can see that such interaction goes deeply into the very process of mitosis, altering the way cells divide. Because cellular division is so important to our body's health, to alter this process means to alter the very nature of our metabolism and our genome itself.
One day our tiny minds will get a grasp on just how powerful herbal medicines actually are. Until then, we'll continue stumbling around in the dark.
Hsieh HY, Chiu PH, Wang SC. Epigenetics in traditional chinese pharmacy: a bioinformatic study at pharmacopoeia scale. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:816714. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neq050.
Hsieh HY, Chiu PH, Wang SC. Histone modifications and traditional Chinese medicinals. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 May 27;13:115. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-115.