Health: Traditional Chinese Medicine Vindicated

The Story:

A new study out of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (China) supports a very traditional remedy. A medicinal herb used by Chinese healers to treat osteoporosis turns out in fact to be effective in stimulating the body to make osteoblasts, which are cells that form new bones.


The herb is known as psorelea fructus. A naturally occurring compound in that herb is corylin, which has the molecular formula C20H16O4. Once in the body, Corylin stimulates a process by which unspecialized cells turn into bone cells. This supports bone development and maintenance, and that makes sense of the observation that it is helpful in treating osteoporosis.

How does corylin do this? A protein called beta-catenin is critical to bone development. But non-bone cells typically break down their beta-catenin. Corylin binds to a receptor on the outside of a cell and instructs it not to break down the beta-catenin, so the stuff builds up, which is good news.

In Pill Form:

There is a temptation in some quarters to write off non-western healing traditions. Even where success can be documented, a common skeptical response is, “the effect is psychosomatic.” In this case, the effect is simply the result of generations of observation, and it isn’t in the mind at all: it is in the molecules.

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