An ancient Chinese medicine extracted from pine trees may be effective against ulcers, heartburn, reflux oesophagitis and other digestive disorders common in the Western world, say scientists.
Dr Jeff Pearson and colleagues at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, have found that ecabet sodium, a white powder derived from the resin of pine trees, has a range of protective effects on the digestive system.
In laboratory tests on gastric juices taken from patients, ecabet sodium reduced pepsin activity — a known cause of ulcers — by up to 78 per cent and caused the mucus lining the stomach to thicken, providing extra protection from the gastric juices.
The powder also proved to be a natural antiseptic, reducing the survival time of ulcer-causing bacteria in the stomach, said Dr Pearson, of the Department of Physiological Sciences in the university’s medical school.
Reflux oesophagitis occurs when gastric juices leave the stomach and travel up the oesophagus, attacking the sensitive lining. While most people suffer occasionally, there are many acute suffers who need drugs to control the disorder.
Reflux oesophagitis is common among people suffering from peptic ulcers or who have a high level of pepsin activity. It can also be caused by a malfunction of the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus.
Dr Pearson believes that ecabet sodium may be very useful for long-term treatment of reflux oesophagitis in patients whose condition has been stabilised by conventional drugs.
Doctors often prescribe drugs which stop acid production by the stomach to control reflux oesophagitis. However, some medical experts are worried there may be side-effects on patients who take the drug daily for many years.
Dr Pearson believes that many small children have reflux oesophagitis in their sleep, but their parents are unaware so it goes untreated. He suspects that the gastric juices can travel so far up the child’s ‘tubes’ that it is a common cause of asthma (by irritating the lining of the respiratory system), and possibly glue ear.
Dr Pearson has an interest in natural medicines from the Far East, many of which seem to be effective but have never been adopted by western medicine because of the language barrier.