Could Chinese medicine be the possible missing link to treating vascular dementia? A promising new clinical trial is underway in Australia

Could Chinese medicine be the possible missing link to treating vascular dementia? A promising new clinical trial is underway in Australia

Published: February 14, 2019 Last Updated: January 21, 2024

According to research from Dementia Australia, there are currently over 400,000 Australians living with dementia and vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of Australians living with dementia is expected to double over the next two decades.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term that describes symptoms of a large group of illnesses which cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning. It is a broad term used to describe a loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and physical functioning. There are multiple forms of dementia that cause different effects on the body but almost all types result in cognitive decline. Dementia can happen to anyone, however studies show that the illnesses most commonly begin after the age of 65.

According to Dementia Australia:

  • Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians contributing to 5.4% of all deaths in males and 10.6% of all deaths in females each year

How does vascular dementia progress?

Vascular dementia usually progresses in steps with the first step being a person’s decline in abilities after a stroke which eventually stabilises until the next stroke. Sometimes further strokes do not occur and in some cases the person’s abilities will improve. It has been found however that most people with vascular dementia have a series of strokes over a period of time which severely impacts their cognitive function. It has been found that people with vascular dementia decline more rapidly than people with Alzheimer's disease and often they die from a heart attack or major stroke.

Is there treatment available?

There is currently no known treatment of vascular dementia, and there is no treatment that can reverse the damage that has already been caused by strokes. With this being said, it is very important to stay aware of preventative measures that can reduce the likelihood of strokes or additional strokes such as

  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise
  • The avoidance of toxic substances such as alcohol and smoking

There are also prescription medicines available that help control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes if suggested by your medical practitioner.

The importance of clinical trials: could Chinese medicine be the answer?

With no known treatment to this disease, clinical trials have been underway for many years in an attempt to discover more about the disease and how to treat or prevent it. A clinical trial is a research investigation in which people volunteer to test new or existing treatments in an effort to prevent or treat various diseases or medical conditions.

Australia will now be conducting a newly expanding clinical trial investigating the possible benefits of a Chinese herbal extract, Sailuotong (SLT) as an effective treatment for vascular dementia.

This will be one of the nation's largest clinical trials conducted by the NICM Health Research Institute and has recently added three new hospitals to the trial, Lismore, Melbourne and one in our very own city of Brisbane.

The expansion of this Australian trial coincides with promising results from an independent Chinese study that was conducted with the same goal, to find a link between SLT and vascular dementia treatment. The Chinese study included 325 participants and suggests that SLT is an effective treatment, as there was improvement in cognition and daily functioning in the Chinese patients with mild to moderate cases of vascular dementia.

After 26 weeks of SLT treatments, the areas of cognitive function that improved were:

  • Memory
  • Orientation
  • Language
  • Executive function

So what is Chinese medicine and how does it differ to modern medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine is a healing system made up of many different parts however this clinical trial is shining a light on one specific area: Chinese herbal medicine.

The major difference to Western and Chinese principles of medicine, is the underlying philosophy that Chinese herbal medicine is prescribed to help with the flow of energy or Qi in the body. The main basis of this practise is the belief that illnesses are caused by an imbalance or blockage of Qi on the meridian lines in the body, which are invisible lines that run through most important organs. While this wildly differs to the beliefs of Western medicine practises, it has been proven that Chinese herbal medicine is effective at treating some illnesses, specifically gastrointestinal illnesses.

What exactly is this SLT herb and what is it used for?

SLT is a modern standardised Chinese herbal combination of ginseng extract, ginkgo biloba extract and safflower extract. You may have heard of these extracts before, with the popularity of Chinese herbs in the Western world reaching new levels.

This herbal combination has been used as a traditional method of curing illnesses for thousands of years recommended by Chinese herbalists and medical practitioners alike. Traditional Chinese methods of healing include acupuncture and Chinese herbal extracts which are methods that Western society is slowly coming to understand and acknowledge the benefits. While there is a slow acceptance from the Western world, there is still not a lot that is known about these herbal remedies and the potential healing properties they may hold.

Though these herbs have been used successfully in Chinese culture for thousands of years, current adaptive science is always finding new information, benefits and potential links to curing and treating illnesses. With the potential benefits of SLT only recently being discovered, who knows what other potentially groundbreaking treatments will be found in future western and traditional Chinese medicinal trials.

If you're wanting to look into the power of Chinese medicine for yourself, one of our trained therapists can easily help you with a range of problems or illnesses.

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