Reduced heart attack risk with traditional Chinese medicine

Heart attack patients benefit from traditional Chinese medicine (Tongxinluo).


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On October 31, 2023, a traditional Chinese medicine that means ‘opening the heart’s network’ reduced the risk of heart attacks, deaths, and other heart-related problems for a year after a first heart attack. Researchers from U.T. Southwestern Medical Center conducted the study, which was published in JAMA. This study is among the first to test a traditional Chinese medicine in a large Western-style clinical trial, showing its potential.

Senior author Eric Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Internal Medicine, Vice Provost, and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research at U.T. Southwestern. Dr. Peterson collaborated with Ying Xian, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology and in the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at UTSW, and colleagues at several Chinese universities and hospitals to perform the study said, “The study of natural or home remedies first recognized many currently used drugs. While we do not know the exact active ingredient and mechanism of action in this traditional Chinese medicine that caused these benefits, it does point us toward exploring and refining this therapy.”

Tongxinluo, a traditional Chinese medicine made from seven herbs and animals, including cockroach, scorpion, cicada, centipede, and leech, has been used for a long time to treat heart attack and stroke patients. In 1996, the State Food and Drug Administration of China approved its use for angina pectoris and stroke based on positive results in earlier studies. However, it had yet to undergo a rigorous clinical trial required for most treatments in the U.S. and Europe.

A study involving 3,777 patients in China who experienced severe heart attacks where a blood clot completely blocks a significant heart blood vessel was conducted between May 2019 and December 2020. Half of the patients were given tongxinluo, while the other half received a placebo designed to resemble traditional Chinese medicine. The study aimed to assess its effectiveness in reducing the risk of further heart problems.

Over the course of a year, doctors closely monitored these patients to see if they experienced severe heart or brain-related events, such as heart-related deaths, repeat heart attacks, strokes, or emergency procedures to unblock heart blood vessels. The results revealed that the group taking tongxinluo had about 30% fewer of these events than those taking the placebo within the first 30 days, and these benefits continued for a year. Patients taking tongxinluo also had a lower risk of specific problems, like a 25% lower chance of heart-related deaths. No significant side effects were observed with tongxinluo, indicating its safety.

Dr. Xian mentioned that further research is needed to identify which components of tongxinluo are responsible for these effects and how they reduce the risk of heart and brain complications. Additionally, to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, similar results must be replicated in other patient groups. A Chinese clinical trial is also planned to test tongxinluo’s safety and effectiveness in patients with minor ischemic strokes.

Dr. Xian, an Investigator at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, said, “Many drugs have failed to achieve effects as impressive as this traditional Chinese medicine. Tongxinluo deserves further study.”

Tongxinluo, a traditional Chinese medicine, has shown potential in reducing the risk of heart-related complications after a heart attack. The results of this clinical trial indicate a significant benefit in lowering the incidence of MACCEs, providing a promising avenue for further research and potential future use in Western medicine.

Journal reference:

  1. Yuejin Yang, Xiangdong Li, et al., Traditional Chinese Medicine Compound (Tongxinluo) and Clinical Outcomes of Patients With Acute Myocardial Infarction. JAMA Network. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2023.19524.


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