Synergy research: approaching a new generation of phytopharmaceuticals

Phytomedicine. 2009 Mar;16(2-3):97-110. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2008.12.018.


The longstanding, successful use of herbal drug combinations in traditional medicine makes it necessary to find a rationale for the pharmacological and therapeutic superiority of many of them in comparison to isolated single constituents. This review describes many examples of how modern molecular-biological methods (including new genomic technologies) can enable us to understand the various synergistic mechanisms underlying these effects. Synergistic effects can be produced if the constituents of an extract affect different targets or interact with one another in order to improve the solubility and thereby enhance the bioavailability of one or several substances of an extract. A special synergy effect can occur when antibiotics are combined with an agent that antagonizes bacterial resistance mechanisms. The verification of real synergy effects can be achieved through detailed pharmacological investigations and by means of controlled clinical studies performed in comparison with synthetic reference drugs. All the new ongoing projects aim at the development of a new generation of phytopharmaceuticals which can be used alone or in combination with synthetic drugs or antibiotics. This new generation of phytopharmaceuticals could lend phytotherapy a new legitimacy and enable their use to treat diseases which have hitherto been treated using synthetic drugs alone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Synergism*
  • Herbal Medicine*
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Pharmacognosy
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Plant Extracts