June 11, 2003 -- An extract from the root of an oriental orchid may help some patients with mild vascular dementia.
The finding comes from a Beijing study reported at this week's meeting of the American Heart Association's Second Asia Pacific Scientific Forum.
Gastrodine (also called gastrodin) is an extract from the tuber of Gastrodia elata Blume, an east-Asian orchid. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 1,900 years. Vascular dementia is mental impairment caused by one or more small strokes that close off small blood vessels in the brain. It can be caused by a single stroke or by a series of small strokes. Symptoms range from true dementia to far less severe impairments in mental and/or motor function.
Jinzhou Tian, MD, PhD, director of the Institute of Geriatrics at China's Beijing University, studied 120 patients whose strokes left them with mild-to-moderate vascular dementia. Fifty patients were given Duxil, a drug combination used in China as a vascular dementia treatment. Seventy patients received gastrodine granules dissolved in water.
Patients who took gastrodine three times a day for 12 weeks did better on tests of mental function and behavior than patients who took Duxil.
"This study might result in doctors considering the use of herbal medications, such as gastrodine compound granules, to supplement the treatment of mild and moderate cognitive impairment," Tian says in a news release.
Timothy Ingall, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and president of the Pacific Mountain branch of the AHA, attended Tian's presentation.
"It is an interesting preliminary finding that suggests the drug may be beneficial in treating patients with mild-to-moderate vascular dementia," Ingall tells WebMD. "However, it was a relatively small number of patients, and the improvement noted in the study was only very modest."
Ingall says that new diagnostic techniques have only recently made it possible to separate patients with true vascular dementia from patients suffering Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. This, he says, will speed the search for new treatments. Meanwhile preventing new strokes is the emphasis of current therapy.