Background: Proving the efficacy and corresponding mode of action of herbal supplements is a difficult challenge for evidence-based herbal therapy. A major hurdle is the complexity of herbal preparations, many of which combine multiple herbs, particularly when the combination is assumed to be vitally important to the effectiveness of the herbal therapy. This issue may be addressed through the use of contemporary methodology and validated animal models.
Methods and principal findings: In this study, two commonly used traditional herbal formulas, Shi Quan Da Bu Tang (SQDB) and Huo Luo Xiao Ling Dan (HLXL) were evaluated using a survival assay and oxidative stress biomarkers in a well-established C. elegans model of aging. HLXL is an eleven herb formula modified from a top-selling traditional herbal formula for the treatment of arthritic joint pain. SQDB consists of ten herbs often used for fatigue and energy, particularly in the aged. We demonstrate here that SQDB significantly extend life span in a C. elegans model of aging. Among all individual herbs tested, two herbs Cinnamomum cassia bark (Chinese pharmaceutical name: Cinnamomi Cortex, CIN) and Panax ginseng root (Chinese pharmaceutical name: Ginseng Radix, GS) significantly extended life span in C. elegans. CIN in both SQDB and HLXL formula extended life span via modulation of multiple longevity assurance genes, including genes involved in insulin signaling and stress response pathways. All the life-span-extending herbs (SQDB, CIN and GS) also attenuated levels of H2O2 and enhanced small heat shock protein expression. Furthermore, the life span-extending herbs significantly delayed human amyloid beta (Abeta)-induced toxicity in transgenic C. elegans expressing human Abeta.
Conclusion/significance: These results validate an invertebrate model for rapid, systematic evaluation of commonly used Chinese herbal formulations and may provide insight for designing future evidence-based herbal therapy(s).