Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, as it was first called in the 1950s, is a compilation of several practices, theories and treatments that have been part of Chinese culture dating to as early as 2698 B.C. Although largely unexplored by consumers and practitioners of Western medicine, TCM sales account for more than half of China’s over-the-counter pharmaceutical sales. In 2005, the OTC market generated $5.2 billion in sales in China—39% of the country’s total domestic pharmaceutical revenues. [i]
The purpose of this paper, then, is to describe the origin and history of a specific TCM herb, Sanchi, its natural cultivation requirements and native habitat, medicinal uses and treatment areas, features, current delivery mechanisms and market characteristics. This is intended to be a suitable introduction to the many medical uses and scientific properties of Sanchi for readers who find themselves more familiar with Western medicine.
I. Introduction to Sanchi
Sanchi, one of the more rare Chinese medicinal herbs, is in the genus panax of the araliaceae family. [ii] Sanchi has a similar shape to ginseng. Each tuberous root contains three branches, which in turn has seven leaves; thus, “Sanchi” (In Chinese, San is three while Chi is seven) earned its name.
Sanchi contains ingredients such as saponins, polysaccharides and amino acids, which help to cure hematological diseases. Saponins help form the waxy, protective coating around plants and are believed to be useful for controlling cholesterol. [iii] The aromatic oil in Sanchi’s flowers and fruit can be extracted to produce cosmetics, and the plant may be ground into powder that is then ingested, either directly or in capsules, pills or tablets. Sanchi can be used to improve blood circulation, to stop bleeding, to reduce fat and sugar in the bloodstream, to eliminate inflammation, to reduce pain, to remove dead cells and to help new cells to grow. Sanchi is unique and rare, as it serves many functions and covers a wide range of hematological diseases. [iv]
A. Natural cultivation requirements and native habitat
The cultivation of Sanchi requires proper soil, temperature, transmittance and water quality. The herb requires well-drained, loose, moist soil, generally deep (12 inches), with a high organic content and a pH level near 5.5, which is roughly the acidity of rainwater. The ratio of shade to light should be in the range of 70%-80%. Sanchi thrives in a climate with 40 to 50 inches of annual precipitation, and it requires several weeks of cold temperatures for adequate dormancy. [v] The average annual ambient temperature should be 20-25°C (68-77°F), and the temperature range should be less than 10°C. There are more than 40 discovered micro-metal elements in suitable soil, and the concentration rate is several times higher than that of other soils, especially for iridium, germanium and nickel. These micro-metal elements stimulate the growth of unique active components in Sanchi, which differentiates Sanchi from other medicinal herbs.
According to the Codex of People’s Republic of China, Sanchi grows in the border areas of Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. From assessment and sampling results during the past several years: “The most suitable land for growing Sanchi is an eggplant-shaped region, 300 km in length, 50 km in width, between 1,000 and 1,200 meters above sea level.” The core growing area is comprised of Wenshan County and Yanshan County in Yunnan Province, together with Jingxi County and Debao County in Guangxi Province. The area of natural habitat that is suitable for cultivation is no more than 2,000 km2, and the plant must be cultivated for at least three years, under careful protection from bad weather, insects and human damage, before it may be harvested. Therefore, because this plant is difficult to grow and has a limited habitat, Sanchi can carry a higher price than other medicinal herbs. Accelerated economic development during the past two decades has generally reduced the area of cultivatable land in the plant’s core habitat. The governments in these areas have perceived the severity of the potential problem, and they have taken actions to ensure a more supportive environment for Sanchi’s development.
B. History of Sanchi
Both domestic and overseas botanists have found that Sanchi is one of the paleozoic plants, which can be traced to 750 million years ago. In 1576, Sanchi’s use as a medicinal herb was first described in Li Shi-Zhen’s Ben Cao Gang Mu (Herbalist Manual). Thereafter, Sanchi’s use was recorded in Ben Cao Gang Mu Shi Yi by Zhao Xue-Min, a scholar during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and also further developed in Yi Lin Zuan Yao, Wei Yao Tiao Bian, Lin Nan Cai Yao Lu and Ri Hua Zi Ben Cao, books or articles by physicians during the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republican period (1912-1949). Today, Sanchi is taken in various forms, including capsules, infusions and tablets. Sanchi powder is typically sold in drug stores, herbal shops and specialty stores, and it may be consumed internally or applied to the skin as a poultice.
II. Scientific Components, Medicinal Uses and Treatment Areas
A. Medicinal Uses
Sanchi has several effects, including the cessation of bleeding, improved blood circulation and reduced blood stasis, or artery blockage. It is applied to heal wounds caused by animals and insect bites. In addition, Sanchi can be used to treat ulcers, as it helps to eliminate inflammation, to reduce pain, to remove dead cells and to help new ones grow. Scientific research has shown that Sanchi has antioxidant activity, which supports circulatory system disorders such as angina, dizziness and regulating blood pressure. Modern pharmaceutical studies show that Sanchi has a significant effect in reducing blood fat and glucose, and it can be used extensively to cure cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, angina and dizziness, hyperglycemia, and other diseases caused by blood stasis and thrombosis, or clotting in blood vessels. [vi]
B. Scientific Components
Sanchi contains more than 10 effective components; each component presents itself differently from the others because of its specific chemical structure. During the last 30 years, a number of chemical, pharmacological and clinical studies have demonstrated that:
- The major elements in the total saponins include panaxadiol, panaxatriol, and monomer saponins. [vii] Panaxadiol has the same chemical structure as ginseng. These saponins perform several functions, including: elimination of inflammation and reduction of pain; supplements for blood; reduction of blood fat, cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein; and expansion of blood vessels to improve the human body’s cardiovascular and cerebrovascular consumption of oxygen. This is widely used to cure cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and other diseases that result from clotting. In China, Sanchi is often given to heart patients instead of nitroglycerin. [viii] Other saponins help remove dead cells and promote the growth of new cells; these are useful in the treatment of wounds and ulcers.
- Up to 8% of Sanchi’s total mass is comprised of such monosaccharides as arabinose, xylopyranose, rhamnose and other low sugars. These monosaccharides help to reduce the generation of free radicals, which can strengthen the immune system and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. [ix] The polysaccharides contained in Sanchi can improve the blood sugar levels of hyperglycemia patients and prevent such diseases from worsening.
- Sanchi contains eight amino acids, which can aid in blood coagulation. Among these, dencichine hemostat serves as the active element. Pharmacological studies prove that: dencichine hemostat has the same medical effect as naturally occurring batroxobin when used in equal doses. Batroxobin is extracted from snake venom and is among the most prescribed anti-bleeding agents; however, it poses production cost and safety concerns. [x] The production cost of dencichine hemostat is just one-fifth of that of batroxobin.
- The flavonoids and volatile oils in Sanchi contain active elements to stimulate nerves and stop cancer cell growth. More studies are being conducted on these properties.
C. Side Effects
Sanchi is most frequently associated with increased nervousness and excitement. Some reports also note vaginal bleeding. Because of its reported hypoglycemic effect, patients who must control their blood sugar levels or who have high blood pressure are advised to avoid its use.
III. Market Characteristics
As discussed above, Sanchi-based medicines are mainly used to cure hematological diseases. The addressable markets for these diseases are:
1. Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and hyperlipidemic diseases
Statins are the predominant international treatment for these diseases. Commonly sold under generic names such as Simvastatin, Atorvastatin, Rosuvastatin, Pravastatin, statins have annual sales of about $25 billion as a whole, while the Chinese market is estimated at roughly 12 percent, or sales of $3 billion annually. However, statins have significant, toxic side effects, such as the myositis (inflammation of skeletal muscles), myopathy (resulting in muscular weakness) and, on rare occasions, rhabdomyolysis (the pathological breakdown of skeletal muscle), which may lead to acute renal failure when products damage the kidneys. [xi] [xii] [xiii] Assuming a 10% market share for Sanchi-based medicines, global sales could reach $2.5 billion, with sales in China of about $300 million per year.
2. Kidney and liver diseases
These are listed as the fourth-most-frequent diseases internationally. The medical demand related to kidney and liver diseases in China is about $1.6 billion, while world consumption is five times as great—up to $8 billion. Traditional chemical medicines are not advantageous in this field because of the complexity inherent in these diseases. However, Chinese medicines are considered less toxic to the body and a suitable treatment alternative. Given the high-quality dosages and right marketing methods, a 20% market share is estimated. Sanchi-based medicines would contribute as much as $1.6 billion to global sales and $320 million to sales in China.
Treatments for wounds and wound-related diseases need to address applications in clotting, coaptation, disinfection, healing and plastic surgery. Injured patients can include athletes, laborers, soldiers, traffic accident victims, and others who suffer during natural disasters or from the side effects of medical surgery. In China alone, there are 30 million cases per year on average, with an incidence rate of 2.6%.
B. Global Demand and Production
Currently, annual sales of Sanchi powders total more than $300 million worldwide. Largely because of production improvements, well-classified dosage management and lower production costs, global Sanchi sales are forecast to increase to $1 billion per annum, a 20% share of the global antibiotic and antiseptic market. Before the opening and reform in China, the available suitable land for Sanchi was less than approximately 6.67 million sq. m., but it has been increased to approximately 80 million sq. m. Production output has increased, as well, from less than 200 metric tons to more than 2,800 metric tons. Sanchi business revenues in Yunnan Province have increased to (RMB) 3.6 billion from less than (RMB) 200 million since 1980, an annual growth rate of 11.8%. However, Sanchi medicine revenues currently comprise less than 1% of overall Chinese medicine revenues.
In summary, Sanchi is a medicinal herb with a wide array of applications, well-documented results and considerable market potential. Because of its limited habitat, Sanchi is particularly rare. Sanchi has been strategically chosen as a medicinal herb for deep development and comprehensive use with modern techniques of active element extraction, based on confirmed pharmacological and clinical studies. Sanchi powders already generate global sales of $300 million annually, and that figure is expected to increase substantially as production capacity accelerates to meet demand for the treatment of numerous diseases and ailments, including kidney and liver diseases, high blood pressure and loss of blood caused by external injuries.
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