Open Access

Chinese herbal medicine for constipation: zheng-based associations among herbs, formulae, proprietary medicines, and herb–drug interactions

  • Linda L. D. Zhong1, 2,
  • Guang Zheng1, 5,
  • Li Da Ge3,
  • Cheng Yuan Lin1, 2,
  • Tao Huang1, 2,
  • Ling Zhao1, 2,
  • Cheng Lu1, 4,
  • Ai Ping Lu1, 2, 4 and
  • Zhao Xiang Bian1, 2Email author
Contributed equally
Chinese Medicine201611:28

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-016-0099-4

Received: 30 April 2015

Accepted: 27 May 2016

Published: 23 June 2016

Abstract

Background

As current symptomatic treatments of constipation are still unsatisfactory, an increasing number of patients seek help from Chinese medicine (CM), particularly Chinese herbal medicine (CHM). This study aimed to review the most frequently used CHM herbs and formulae, proprietary CHMs, and herb–drug interactions for functional constipation using zheng (syndrome)-based differentiation, and to determine the current practice of zheng-based CHM treatments for functional constipation.

Methods

We developed a search strategy to include all the related clinical studies of CHM for constipation and set inclusion and exclusion criteria as studies on subjects with constipation of all ages and both sexes, using objective measures from laboratory or imaging techniques. The interventions included single herbs, CM classical formulae, CM new formulae, and Chinese herb-derived products and combination products. The clinical study types included were quasi- or randomized controlled trials, observational clinical studies, case series or case reports, and other types of appropriate research methods. The data concerning study design, sample size, mode of recruitment, sampling and diagnostic procedure, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and participants’ characteristics (including age, sex, and duration of constipation). CM patterns, CM treatment principles, treatment regimen, and CM treatment outcomes were recorded.

Results

A total of 29,832 relevant records were found, of which 8541 were duplicate records and 20,639 were excluded for reasons of irrelevance. The full text of 965 articles was retrieved for detailed assessment, following which 480 articles were excluded for various reasons. From the included articles, we retrieved 190 different CM zheng diagnoses from 485 individual studies. The most common zheng was dual deficiency of qi and blood (N = 48), which was diagnosed in 948 out of 15,740 subjects. The most frequently used classical formula was Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan (MZRW) (N = 75) and the most frequently used proprietary CHM was Run-Chang-Wan (N = 87). The most frequently used combined medication was Da Huang with sodium bicarbonate tablets (frequency across all studies, n = 23), followed by Fan Xie Ye with lactulose oral solution (n = 8), Ma-Ren-Ruan-Jiao-Nang with lactulose oral solution (n = 6) and Liu-Wei-An-Xiao-Jiao-Nang (n = 6) with mosapride citrate tablets.

Conclusion

This study examined the use of CHM for constipation and summarized the herbs, formulae, proprietary medicines, and herb–drug interactions application. These data indicated there were limited information about herb-drug interactions and adverse effects of CHM and further randomized controlled trials with strict design are necessary.

Background

Constipation is a common functional bowel disorder that affects many people; 14.7 % of the United States population [1], and 15.6 % of the adult population in Hong Kong [2] experienced this problem in a large sampled cross-sectional survey published in 2014. Treatments for constipation usually include fiber supplements, osmotic and stimulant laxatives, stool softeners, and sometimes enemas for refractory constipation [3]. As current symptomatic treatments produce unsatisfactory responses [4], many patients seek help from Chinese medicine (CM), particularly Chinese herbal medicine (CHM).

Many CM interventions have been used to treat constipation. A recent review [5] listed the current clinical research findings from CM interventions for functional constipation. However, there have been no analysis of the benefits of individual interventions (or individual types of interventions) or of the qualities of individual study designs. Our research team conducted a systematic review of CHM for functional constipation [6] and showed that CHM or CHM combination therapy was more effective than some single conventional medicines [6]. However, these findings did not accurately reflect all clinical practice, as most clinical research on constipation has involved observational studies or case series, and clinical practice has mostly been limited to personal experiences and based on CM theory and zheng (syndrome) differentiation [79].

We aimed to investigate CHM applications for constipation based on zheng differentiation, especially the use of single herbs, CM formulae, proprietary CHMs, and herb–drug interactions. Therefore, we systematically reviewed all the available data from current databases, including clinical trials, clinical observational studies, case series, case reports, and case control studies. Because we examined large data sets from both conventional Western and CM literature, we used a data slicing algorithm for text mining [10].

This study aimed to review the most frequently used CHM herbs and formulae, proprietary CHMs, and herb–drug interactions for functional constipation using zheng-based differentiation, and to determine the current practice of zheng-based CHM treatments for functional constipation.

Methods

Literature search

The review was performed in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. We used the following databases to search the conventional medicine literature: PubMed, Ovid, Evidence-Based Medicine Reviews (EBMR), and Embase. The following databases were used to search the traditional CM literature: SinoMed, Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chinese biomedical literature (CBM) CD, and China Journals Full-text Database. From the electronic database records and bibliographic references, we identified relevant primary sources and secondary sources (such as textbooks, review articles, and meta-analyses) as follows. We selected all EBM reviews, including Cochrane DSR, ACP Journal Club, DARE, CCTR, CMR, HTA, and NHSEED from inception to April 2014; EMBASE from 1980 to April 2014; EMBASE Classic from 1947 to 1979; PubMed from inception to April 2014; Ovid MEDLINE(R) from 1950 to April 2014; Ovid OLDMEDLINE(R) from 1948 to 1965; SinoMed from 1978 to April 2014; China Journals Full-text Database from 1994 to April 2014 and CBM disc from 1979 to April 2014. The search strategy was (1) (constipation) OR (chronic constipation) OR (functional constipation); (2) (herb*) OR (herbal medicine) OR (traditional Chinese medicine) OR (Chinese medicine) OR (Complementary medicine) OR (Naturopathy); (3) (case*) OR (clinical observation*) OR (clinical trial) OR (clinical study); (1) AND (2) AND (3) (*was used for truncation).

Study selection

We included interventions using single herbs, CM classical formulae, CM new formulae, and Chinese herb-derived products and combination products. The clinical study types included were quasi- or randomized controlled trials, observational clinical studies, case series or case reports, and other types of appropriate research methods. We included studies on subjects with constipation of all ages and both sexes, studies using objective measures from laboratory or imaging techniques, and studies using measurement from nursing staff, patients, or other informants.

Data extraction

Two authors (LLDZ and GZ) independently searched the databases and selected relevant publications. If the two authors disagreed about a study’s eligibility, they would check the study against the selection criteria, discuss its eligibility, and make a further decision (ZXB). One author (LLDZ) extracted the data and the other (GZ) checked the extracted data. For each study, the following information was extracted: study design, sample size, mode of recruitment, sampling and diagnostic procedure, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and participants’ characteristics (including age, sex, and duration of constipation). CM patterns, CM treatment principles, treatment regimen, and CM treatment outcomes were recorded.

Quality assessment

The methodological quality of relevant studies was assessed using the Jadad scale (Additional file 1; [11]). The Jadad scale evaluates a study in terms of the description of randomization, blinding, and dropouts. The scale ranges from 1 to 5; randomized controlled trials with a score between 3 and 5 are regarded as better quality trials. Points were awarded if the study was described as randomized (1 point), had an appropriate randomization method (1 point), was described as double-blind (1 point), used an appropriate blinding method (1 point), and had a description of withdrawals and dropouts (1 point) [11].

Identification of herb-zheng associations

Classification based on keyword co-occurrence was conducted on the 18,272 items of constipation literature downloaded from SinoMed [12]. We also applied a dictionary-based data slicing algorithm constructed on the principle of keyword co-occurrence. We filtered the downloaded data using CM associated keywords, such as “Chinese herbal medicine,” “Chinese patent medicine,” and “CM syndrome/zheng,” which were obtained from textbooks and the Internet. The keyword co-occurrence classification was a good supplement to the literature search, as it provided insights into the quantitative relationship between the individual herbs and formulae used to treat constipation. We used a wheel-shaped network to indicate the association between different types of single herbs and their zheng indications [10]. The wheel-shaped network was a visualized graph that showed the frequencies and correlations among the same categories [10].

Translation of terminology

All Chinese-to-English translations were deduced primarily from the World Health Organization (WHO) Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific Region [13].

Results

We accessed 29,832 records that fit the search criteria, of which 8541 were duplicate records and 20,639 were excluded for reasons of irrelevance. The full text of 965 articles was retrieved for detailed assessment; 480 of these were excluded for various reasons (Fig. 1). Of the 485 studies that fulfilled the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 289 were on CM formulae, 91 were on proprietary CM, and 105 were on a combination of CHM and conventional treatment. The sample size of the 485 studies ranged from 35 to 250. Among all the studies, 289 (59.6 %) were case series or reports, 125 (25.8 %) were controlled trials, and 71 (14.6 %) were randomized controlled trials. For the randomized controlled trials, the mean Jadad scores were 2.06 and their average quality was quite low (Additional file 1).
Fig. 1

Flowchart of literature selection logistics

CM zheng category and treatment criteria

From the included articles, we retrieved 190 different CM zheng diagnoses from 485 individual studies. The most common pattern was dual deficiency of qi and blood (Qi Xue Liang Xu), which was diagnosed in 948 of the 15,740 subjects (frequency = 48, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 16.8 %); this was followed by dual deficiency of qi and yin (Qi Yin Liang Xu) (subjects = 795, frequency = 45, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 15.7 %), excessive heat and qi stagnation (Qi Zhi Shi Re) (subjects = 726, frequency = 41, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 14.3 %), yang deficiency of spleen and kidney (Pi Shen Yang Xu) (subjects = 636, frequency = 32, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 11.2 %), deficiency of qi and blood (Qi Xue Liang Xu) (subjects = 595, frequency = 26, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 9.1 %), coldheat complex (Han Re Cuo Za) (subjects = 513, frequency = 21, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 7.3 %), liver depression and spleen deficiency (Gan Yu Pi Xu) (subjects = 495, frequency = 20, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 7.0 %), deficiencyexcess complex (Xu Shi Jia Za) (subjects = 483, frequency = 20, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 7.0 %), dual yin deficiency of liver and kidney (Gan Shen Yin Xu) (subjects = 410, frequency = 17, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 5.9 %) and intestinal dryness and yin deficiency (Yin Xu Chang Zao) (subjects = 223, frequency = 16, percentage among the top 10 diagnosis = 5.6 %). Subjects diagnosed with the top 10 CM zheng accounted for 37 % of the 15,740 subjects (Table 1). Table 1 lists the therapeutic principles for the CM zheng.
Table 1

Top ten most commonly used CM zheng for constipation

CM zheng

Therapeutic principle

Number of subjects diagnosed by the diagnosis

Number of frequency among all the studies

Percentage among the total zheng (190)/top 10 zheng diagnosis (%)

Dual deficiency of qi and blood qi-xue-liang-xu

Tonify qi and replenish blood

948

48

16.8/6.2

Dual deficiency of qi and yin qi-yin-liang-xu

Tonify qi and replenish yin

795

45

15.7/5.9

Excessive heat and qi stagnation qi-zhi-shi-re

Soothe the liver and regulate qi

726

41

14.3/5.3

Yang deficiency of spleen and kidney pi-shen-yang-xu

Warm the kidney and fortify the spleen

636

32

11.2/4.2

Deficiency of qi and blood pi-xue-kui-xu

Tonify qi and engender blood

595

26

9.1/3.4

Cold-heat complex han-re-cuo-za

Treat cold with heat and heat with cold

513

21

7.3/2.7

Liver depression and spleen deficiency gan-yu-pi-xu

Soothe the liver and fortify the spleen

495

20

7.0/2.6

Deficiency-excess complex xu-shi-jia-za

Treat deficiency by tonification and excess by purgation

483

20

7.0/2.6

Dual yin deficiency of liver and kidney gan-shen-yin-xu

Enrich the kidney and nourish the liver yin

410

17

5.9/2.2

Intestinal dryness and yin deficiency yin-xu-chang-zao

Replenish yin and moisten dryness

223

16

5.6/2.1

CM herbs and their relationships

We identified 296 herbs from 485 clinical studies and analyzed their relationships using the wheel-shaped network (Fig. 2). In this figure, red and green nodes represent different single herbal medicines. The edges represent co-occurrence frequency in clinical studies. The edge label numbers represent the number of clinical studies demonstrating a connection between two single herbal medicines. There was a high concentration of one classical Chinese herbal formula, Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan, whose composition of six herbs occupied 42.5 % (1754/4127) of the total frequency of usage. Based on this, the green nodes represent CHMs in the formula Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan and the red nodes represent other CHMs used in clinical prescriptions [10]. Node size was calculated with the formula
Fig. 2

Network relationship of Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of constipation. Red and green nodes represent different single herbal medicines. The edges represent co-occurrence frequency in clinical studies. The edge label numbers represent the number of clinical studies demonstrating a connection between two single herbal medicines

$$Node \, size = LOG \, \left( {node\_frequency} \right) + Degree \, (node)$$
where node_frequency is the literature record number of the associated keyword calculated in text mining, LOG is the logarithm calculation with a base set to 10, and Degree (node) is the number of connections/edges each node has with other nodes. The edge line width was calculated through LOG (edge_co-occurrent) where edge_co-occurrent was the number of node/keyword pairs that co-occurred in the associated literature.
Table 2 lists the top 10 most frequently used herbs and their actions. The most frequently used herbs were further categorized and analyzed to determine their combinations in classical formulae. The most frequently used classical formulae were Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan [14] and Zeng-Ye-Tang [15].
Table 2

Action and indication of the most ten frequently used herbs

Chinese name in pinyin

Latin name

Frequency of usage

Action

Indication

Da Huang

Radix et Rhizoma Rhei

428

Drains heat and purges accumulations; clears heat, transforms dampness and promotes urination; drains heat from the blood; invigorates the blood and dispels blood stasis

Intestinal heat excess with high fever, profuse sweating, thirst, constipation, abdominal distention and pain, delirium, a yellow tongue coat and a full pulse; blood stasis with amenorrhea, fixed abdominal masses or fixed pain

Huo Ma Ren

Semen Cannabis

247

Nourishes, moistens and lubricates the intestines; nourishes the yin; clears heat and promotes healing of sores; moistens dryness and benefits the hair

Constipation in the elderly; constipation after a warm febrile disease; postpartum constipation; constipation due to blood and yin deficiency; sores and ulcerations (auxiliary-internal and topical); promotes hair growth and treats dry hair

Fan Xie Ye

Folium Sennae

232

Drains downward and guides out stagnation; eliminates excess heat and drains summer heat

Heat in the stomach and intestines with constipation and abdominal fullness; summer heat

Bai Zhu

Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae

198

Tonifies the spleen and augments qi; dries dampness and promotes water metabolism; stabilizes the exterior and stops sweating

Spleen and stomach deficiency with diarrhea, fatigue; spleen damp or accumulation of fluids affecting the digestion; edema and reduced urination due to spleen deficiency; qi deficiency with spontaneous sweating

Dang- Gui

Radix Angelicae Sinensis

132

Tonifies the blood and regulates the menses; invigorates and harmonizes the blood and disperses cold; moistens the intestines and unblocks the bowels

Blood deficiency with pale, ashen complexion, lusterless nails, tinnitus; blood deficiency associated irregular menstruation, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea; dry Intestines due to blood deficiency

Huang Qi

Radix Astragali

126

Tonifies qi and blood; strengthens the spleen and raises the yang qi of the spleen and stomach; tonifies wei qi, stabilizes the exterior and tonifies the lungs

Postpartum fever due to qi and blood deficiency; spleen qi deficiency with anorexia, fatigue and diarrhea; excessive sweating with qi, yang or yin deficiency; dampness in the head

Gan Cao

Radix Glycyrrhizae

112

Tonifies the spleen and augments qi; moistens the lungs, resolves phlegm and stops cough; moderates spasms and alleviates pain; clears heat and relieves fire toxicity

Spleen qi deficiency with shortness of breath, lassitude and loose stools; qi and blood deficiency with an irregular pulse and/or palpitations; productive or non-productive cough; raw for toxic heat with sore throat or carbuncles and sores

Sheng Di

Radix Rehmanniae

99

Clears heat and cools the blood; nourishes yin, generates fluids, increases saliva and treats wasting and thirsting; cools heart fire

Ying-stage heat with high fever, thirst and a scarlet tongue; hemorrhage due to blood heat; throat pain due to yin deficiency

Bai Shao

Radix Paeoniae Alba

94

Nourishes the blood and regulates menstruation; astringes yin and adjusts the ying and wei; calms liver yang and liver wind and alleviates pain

Liver blood deficiency with menstrual dysfunction, vaginal discharge and uterine bleeding; anemia; breast distention and pre-menstrual syndrome

Lu Hui

Aloe

93

Purges, drains fire and guides out accumulations; clears heat and cools the liver; kills parasites and strengthens the stomach

Heat accumulation with constipation, dizziness, red eyes, and irritability; chronic constipation; heat in the liver channel or liver fire with epigastric discomfort, dizziness, headache, irritability, tinnitus, constipation and fever

CM zheng-based Chinese herbal formulae

Among the 289 studies on Chinese herbal formulae, the most frequently used formulae based on zheng diagnosis were Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan and its modifications (frequency among all the studies, n = 75, percentage among the top 10 formulae, 33.07 %). This was followed by Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Tang (n = 56, 22.58 %), Ji-Chuan-Jian (n = 51, 20.56 %), Zeng-Ye-Tang (n = 40, 13.84 %), and Ba-Zhen-Tang (n = 26, 10.48 %). The five most frequently used CM zheng-based Chinese herbal formulae and their indications are summarized in Table 3.
Table 3

Summary of top five most frequently used Chinese herbal formulae based on zheng diagnosis

Chinese name in pinyin

Composition in pinyin

CM zheng

Number of frequency among all the studies

Actions in Chinese medicine

Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan

Huo Ma Ren

Xing Ren

Bai Shao

Zhi Shi

Hou Pu

Da Huang

Excessive qi and heat

75

Invigorates Blood

Dispels Blood Stasis

Moves qi

Lubricates the intestines

Moves the bowels

Purges heat

Alleviates pain

Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Tang

Huang Qi

Ren Shen

Bai Zhu

Zhi Gan Cao

Dang Gui

Chen Pi

Shen Ma

Chai Hu

Qi deficiency of spleen and stomach/Sunken middle qi

56

Tonifies middle jiao qi

Benefits qi

Regulates qi

Raises sunken yang

Lifts prolapsed organs

Ji-Chuan-Jian

Dang Gui

Niu Xi

Rou Cong Rong

Ze Xie

Shen Ma

Zhi Qiao

Yang deficiency of spleen and kidney

51

Warms up the kidney

Replenishes vital essence

Lubricates the intestines

Induces defecation

Zeng-Ye-Tang

Xuan Shen

Mai Dong

Sheng Di

Fluid-humor deficiency

40

Generates Fluids

Moistens dryness

Unblocks the bowels

Nourishes yin

Clears heat

Ba-Zhen-Tang

Ren Shen

Bai Zhu

Fu Ling

Zhi Gan Cao

Shu Di

Bai Shao

Chuan Xiong

Dang Gui

Dual deficiency of qi and blood

26

Nourishes qi

Benefits blood

Proprietary CHMs

After the classical herbal decoctions, the next most frequently used clinical treatments for constipation were proprietary CHMs, because of their standard quality control and more convenient administration. We analyzed the most commonly used proprietary CHMs and their dosage (Table 4). The manufacturers of the proprietary CHMs are also shown, to indicate the quality and composition of the medicines. The most commonly used proprietary CHM was Run-Chang-Wan (frequency, n = 87), followed by Ma-Ren-Ruan-Jiao-Nang (n = 62), Ma-Ren-Run-Chang-Wan (n = 52), Liu-Wei-An-Xiao-Jiao-Nang (n = 50), Fu-Fang-Lu-Hui-Jiao-Nang (n = 35), Si-Ni-San (n = 32), Liu-Wei-Neng-Xiao-Jiao-Nang (n = 27), and Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Wan (n = 17).
Table 4

Summary of top ten most frequently used Chinese herbal medicine proprietary

Chinese name in pinyin (manufacturer)

Composition in pinyin

Oral dosage

Number of frequency among all the studies

Indication

Run-Chang-Wan (Shang Dong Hua Yang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.)

Tao Ren

4 pills t. i. d. for oral administration

87

Constipation with CM zheng of excessive qi and heat, and constipation for elderly people and postpartum women

Da Hua

Qiang Huo

Dang Gui

Huo Ma Ren

Ma-Ren-Ruan-Jiao-Nang (Actavis (Foshan) Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Huo Ma Ren

2 capsules t. i. d. for oral administration

62

Constipation with CM zheng of excessive qi and heat

Xing Ren

Bai Shao

Zhi Shi

Hou Pu

Da Huang

Ma-Ren-Run-Chang-Wan (Bei Jing Tong Ren Tang Co., Ltd.)

Huo Ma Ren

1–2 big honey pills b. i. d. for oral administration

52

Constipation with CM zheng of heat in stomach and intestines

Xing Ren

Da Hua

Bai Shao

Mu Xiang

Chen Pi

Liu-Wei-An-Xiao-Jiao-Nang (Gui Zhou Xin Bang Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Tu Mu Xiang

3–6 pills b. i. d. for oral administration

50

Constipation due to indigestion and bloating; stomachache; dyspepsia

Da Huang

Shan Nai

Han Shui Shi

Ke Zi

Jian Hua

Fu-Fang-Lu-Hui-Jiao-Nang (He Bei Wan Bang & Folon Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Lu Hui

1–2 capsules b. i. d. for oral administration

35

Constipation with CM zheng of intense fire in heart and liver

Qing Dai

Zhu Sha

Hu Po

Ma-Ren-Zi-Pi-Wan (Bao Tou Chinese Medicine Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Huo Ma Ren

1 big honey pills b. i. d. for oral administration

34

Constipation with CM zheng of dryness and heat in large intestine

Xing Ren

Bai Shao

Zhi Shi

Hou Pu

Da Huang

Yu Li Ren

Dang Gui

Si-Ni-San (Fu Zhou Neptunus Futao Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Chai Hu

6–9 g granules b. i. d. for oral administration

32

Constipation with CM zheng of disharmony between spleen and liver

Zhi Shi

Bai Shao

Zhi Gan Cao

Liu-Wei-Neng-Xiao-Jiao-Nang (Yang Zong Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.)

Da Hua

2 capsules b. i. d. for oral administration

27

Constipation due to indigestion; obesity; hyperlipidemia

Ke Zi

Gan Jiang

Zang Mu Xiang

Jian Hua

Hai Shui Shi

Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Wan (Bei Jing Tong Ren Tang Co., Ltd.)

Huang Qi

1–2 big honey pills b. i. d. for oral administration

17

Constipation with CM zheng of qi deficiency of spleen and stomach/Sunken middle qi

Dang Shen

Bai Zhu

Dang Gui

Shen Ma

Chai Hu

Chen Pi

Zhi Gan Cao

t.i.d. means ter in die, three times a day; b.i.d. means bis in die, twice a day

CM combined with Western medicine and adverse effects

Few clinical studies reported the combined use of CM and Western medicine for constipation. Table 5 summarized the herb–drug interactions identified. Although most studies did not mention the adverse effects associated with combined administration of herbs and drugs, or proprietary CHMs and drugs, there were 43 reported trials of the integrative use of single herbs or proprietary CHMs. Among these studies, the most frequent adjunctive use was Da Huang (Radix et Rhizoma Rhei) with sodium bicarbonate tablets (n = 23), followed by Fan Xie Ye (Folium Sennae) with lactulose oral solution (n = 8), Ma-Ren-Ruan-Jiao-Nang with lactulose oral solution (n = 6) and Liu-Wei-An-Xiao-Jiao-Nang with mosapride citrate tablets (n = 6).
Table 5

Summary of combination of CHM and Western medicine and the reported adverse effects

 

Combined used Western medicine

Frequency of reported in all the trials (n > 5)

Adverse effect (N = , percentage, %)

Single herb

 Da Huang

Sodium bicarbonate tablets

23

Symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract (N = 4, 17.3 %)

Insomnia (N = 1, 4.3 %)

Skin rash (N = 1, 4.3 %)

Headache (N = 1, 4.3 %)

 Fan Xie Ye

Lactulose oral solution

8

Symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract (N = 2, 25 %)

Dizzy and anorexia (N = 1, 12.5 %)

CHM Proprietary

 Ma-Ren-Ruan-Jiao-Nang

Lactulose oral solution

6

Symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract (N = 2, 33.3 %)

Headache (N = 1, 16.7 %)

 Liu-Wei-An-Xiao-Jiao-Nang

Mosapride citrate tablets

6

Symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract (N = 3, 50 %)

Discussion

To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the use of single herbs, classical CM formulae, proprietary CHMs, and the combined use of CM and Western medicine (and its adverse effects) for constipation. The classification of single herbs and CM formulae was generally based on the CM diagnostic zheng system. As we pointed out in our commentary paper, zheng diagnosis is a critical stage of CM treatment; it is the basis of CM’s effectiveness and the main feature that distinguishes it from Western medicine [16]. In this review, we focused on zheng diagnosis, in accord with current clinical CM practice. Although we identified 190 different CM zheng diagnoses, only 57.9 % (281/485) of studies used the diagnosis system of zheng differentiation. The most commonly diagnosed zheng for constipation was dual deficiency of qi and blood (16.8 %) followed by dual deficiency of qi and yin (15.7 %) and excessive heat and qi stagnation (14.3 %). As Table 1 showed, among the top 10 CM zheng, five belonged to deficiency zheng and the others could be categorized as a combination of deficiency and sufficiency or sufficiency syndrome. These results are consistent with those of our previous study [16] and with other research on syndrome distribution among constipation patients [8, 17], which indicated that almost half of patients, especially older individuals and postpartum women, had deficiency syndromes [18, 19].

Of the 10 most frequently used herbs, the top three were traditional purgatives; the other herbs were tonifying and replenishing medicines, except Lu Hui (Aloe vera) [20, 21]. It is interesting that the top five CM zheng were deficiency zheng; this seemed inconsistent with the fact that the five most frequently used single herbs were purgatives. This was mainly because only 50.26 % of studies used CM zheng differentiation, and purgatives are mostly used for general constipation in the absence of any CM zheng diagnosis. Table 3 shows that the most commonly used Chinese herbal formula was Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan, which suggested that it formed the basis of the most commonly prescribed formulae for constipation according to both CM syndrome differentiation and Western medicine diagnosis.

Many studies of Chinese herbal formulae or proprietary CHM did not provide standard or complete criteria for syndrome diagnosis. The lack of detail and consistency in diagnosis makes these studies difficult to replicate and their findings difficult to compare with other results [22]. Most studies provided only the main composition of the formulae without any indication of dosage or quality control standards (Table 4). Although proprietary CHMs are rapidly gaining attention in the West as sources of new drugs, dietary supplements, and functional foods, the lack of consistent manufacturing processes, quality standards, scientific evidence, and validation of efficacy and safety impede worldwide acceptance of CHM [23].

Currently, herb–drug interactions are of growing concern as a clinical safety issue to clinicians and researchers [24, 25]. Proprietary CHMs are prescribed by Western medical doctors who may not fully understand the indications and actions of these medicines [26]. Although herbal medicines are natural, they are not always safe [27]. Table 5 showed the concomitant use and the adverse effects of herb–drug combinations or proprietary CHM–drug combinations based on the limited literature. These limited data showed that the incidence of adverse effects was not as low as we expected, ranging from 4.3 to 50 %, although most adverse effects were symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract.

A limitation of this study was that the data were drawn from clinical studies that used several different types of design: case reports, cohort studies, and quasi- or randomized controlled trials. The quality of these studies varied and therefore it is difficult to compare them quantitatively. In addition, most studies did not provide sufficient detail regarding inclusion criteria of diseases and syndromes, quality control procedures for single herbs or proprietary CHMs, or withdrawal rates and reasons. Therefore, the analysis of the data derived from this study is limited and should be treated with caution.

Conclusion

This review examined the use of CHM for constipation and summarized the most frequently used Chinese single herbs, the 10 most frequently used CHM formulae and proprietary CHMs, and the combined use of CHM and Western medicine treatments and their reported adverse effects.

Notes

Abbreviations

CHM: 

Chinese herbal medicine

CM: 

Chinese medicine

MZRW: 

Ma-Zi-Ren-Wan

PRISMA: 

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

EBMR: 

Evidence-Based Medicine Reviews

CNKI: 

Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure

CBM: 

Chinese biomedical literature

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

ZXB designed the study. LDG and CYL conducted text mining. TH and LZ retrieved the herbs and herb-drug interaction data. LLDZ and GZ searched the literature and wrote the manuscript. LDG, CYL, TH, LZ, LLDZ, GZ, CL, and APL revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

We thank Health and Health Services Research Fund (Project No. 09101501), Hong Kong SAR, and Natural Science Foundation of China Project (NSFC-81173363) for financially support this research. The funding agencies have no role in the design and execution of this project. They will not be involved to the analysis and interpretation of data, or make decision to submit the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University
(2)
Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Study Centre, Hong Kong Baptist University
(3)
Department of Surgery, The First People’s Hospital of Xiaoshan District
(4)
Institute of Basic Research in Clinical Medicine, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine
(5)
School of Information Science and Engineering, Lanzhou University

References

  1. Mugie SM, Benninga MA, Di Lorenzo C. Epidemiology of constipation in children and adults: a systematic review. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2011;25(1):3–18.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Huang R, Ho SY, Lo WS, Lam TH. Physical activity and constipation in Hong Kong adolescents. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e90193.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Pasanen ME. Evaluation and treatment of colonic symptoms. Med Clin North Am. 2014;98(3):529–47.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. McCarberg BH. Overview and treatment of opioid-induced constipation. Postgrad Med. 2013;125(4):7–17.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Lin LW, Fu YT, Dunning T, Zhang AL, Ho TH, Duke M, Lo SK. Efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine for the management of constipation: a systematic review. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(12):1335–46.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cheng CW, Bian ZX, Wu TX. Systematic review of Chinese herbal medicine for functional constipation. WJG. 2009;15(39):4886–95.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Suo T, Gu X, Andersson R, Ma H, Zhang W, Deng W, Zhang B, Cai D, Qin X. Oral traditional Chinese medication for adhesive small bowel obstruction. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;5:CD008836.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen CM, Lin LZ, Zhang EX. Standardized treatment of chinese medicine decoction for cancer pain patients with opioid-induced constipation: A multi-center prospective randomized controlled study. Chin J Integr Med. 2014;20(7):496–502.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Yao YB, Cao YQ, Guo XT, Yi J, Liang HT, Wang C, Lu JG. Biofeedback therapy combined with traditional Chinese medicine prescription improves the symptoms, surface myoelectricity, and anal canal pressure of the patients with spleen deficiency constipation. eCAM. 2013;2013:830714.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Zheng G, Jiang M, He X, Zhao J, Guo H, Chen G, Zha Q, Lu A. Discrete derivative: a data slicing algorithm for exploration of sharing biological networks between rheumatoid arthritis and coronary heart disease. BioData Min. 2011;4:18.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Moher D, Jadad AR, Tugwell P. Assessing the quality of randomized controlled trials. Current issues and future directions. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 1996;12(2):195–208.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Sinomed database: http://www.sinomed.ac.cn/. Accessed 16 May 2014.
  13. WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. WHO International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific Region; 2007.Google Scholar
  14. Zhang S. Examples for clinical use of ma zi ren wan. J Tradit Chin Med. 2002;22(3):216–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Zeng ZC, Tang ZY, Fan J, Zhou J, Qin LX, Ye SL, Sun HC, Wang BL, Li D, Wang JH, Zeng MS, Guo W, Tan YS. Consideration of the role of radiotherapy for unresectable intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma: a retrospective analysis of 75 patients. Cancer J. 2006;12(2):113–22.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Bian ZX, Xu H, Lu AP, Lee MS, Cheung H. Insights of Chinese medicine syndrome study: from current status to future prospects. Chin J Integr Med. 2014;20(5):326–31.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Cheng CW, Kwok AO, Bian ZX, Tse DM. The quintessence of traditional Chinese medicine: syndrome and its distribution among advanced cancer patients with constipation. eCAM. 2012;2012:739642.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Ren Z, Wu QM, Li DD, Liu WA, Li XR, Lin XM. Post-stroke constipation treated with acupuncture therapy of regulating qi circulation of fu-organ. Zhongguo zhen jiu. 2013;33(10):893–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Cherniack EP. Use of complementary and alternative medicine to treat constipation in the elderly. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013;13(3):533–8.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Wang J, Huang JH, Cheng YF, Yang GM. Banana resistant starch and its effects on constipation model mice. J Med Food. 2014;17(8):902–7.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Hou ML, Chang LW, Lin CH, Lin LC, Tsai TH. Determination of bioactive components in Chinese herbal formulae and pharmacokinetics of rhein in rats by UPLC-MS/MS. Molecules. 2014;19(4):4058–75.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Wang J, Cui M, Jiao H, Tong Y, Xu J, Zhao Y, Han M, Liu J. Content analysis of systematic reviews on effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine. J Tradit Chin Med. 2013;33(2):156–63.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Xue CC, Zhang AL, Greenwood KM, Lin V, Story DF. Traditional Chinese medicine: an update on clinical evidence. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(3):301–12.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Ge B, Zhang Z, Zuo Z. Updates on the clinical evidenced herb-warfarin interactions. eCAM. 2014;2014:957362.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Rahal A, Ahmad AH, Kumar A, Mahima, Verma AK, Chakraborty S, Dhama K. Clinical drug interactions: a holistic view. PJBS. 2013;16(16):751–8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Chan TY. The prevalence use and harmful potential of some Chinese herbal medicines in babies and children. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1994;36(3):238–40.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. van Andel T, de Boer HJ, Barnes J, Vandebroek I. Medicinal plants used for menstrual disorders in Latin America, the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia and their uterine properties: a review. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;155:992.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© Zhong et al 2016

Advertisement