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Keeping Herbful

Mechanisms underlying efficacy of a traditional Chinese medicine on Parkinson's disease

01 March 2022

Keeping Herbful

In traditional Chinese medicine the herb Gastrodia elata Blume is used as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness and balance problems. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by a lack of neurons that produce dopamine, a key player in regulating movement. However, the secret of this herbal medicine isn’t just with these neurons, but with brain cells nearby called glial cells. When fed food containing water extract of the herb, the glial cells (red) in fruit flies carrying a genetic mutation of Parkinson’s disease started producing a protein called Nrf2 (green). This protein stopped the series of events in the neighbouring dopamine-producing neurons which causes their demise. In fact, the herb-fed fruit flies had more of the essential neurons and less difficulties moving than their control counterparts. Further study in humans will be needed before its use as an alternative or complementary treatment.

Written by Katy Pallister

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