, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 299–312 | Cite as

Evaluating the traditional Chinese literature for herbal formulae and individual herbs used for age-related dementia and memory impairment

  • Brian H. May
  • Chuanjian Lu
  • Louise Bennett
  • Helmut M. Hügel
  • Charlie C. L. XueEmail author
Research Article


Natural products are the basis of many systems of traditional medicine and continue to provide sources for new drugs. Ethnobiological approaches to drug discovery that have proven productive in the past include the investigation of traditional medical literatures. This study describes a broadly applicable method for locating, selecting and evaluating citations in the traditional Chinese herbal medicine literature of the dynastic period (until 1911) for specific symptoms or disorders. This methodology is applied to evaluate multi-herb formulae for age-related dementia and memory impairment. Of the 174 multi-herb formulae located in the searches, 19 were for disorders broadly consistent with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and/or Age Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI). These appeared in books written between c. 650 to 1911. Of the 176 herbs that appeared in these 19 formulae, those with the highest frequencies were tabulated and hierarchical cluster analysis was undertaken. Chinese pharmacopoeias were consulted to determine the botanical identity of the herbs and also which herbs within the formulas were specific for memory disorders. This study found that the top ten herbs, in terms of frequency of inclusion in multi-herb formulae specific for age-related memory disorders, were all listed in the pharmacopoeias for memory disorders and these formed three clusters. The herbs identified in this study may warrant further experimental and clinical evaluation both individually and in combination.


Herbal medicine Drug discovery Natural products Text mining Dementia Memory impairment Ageing 



Age-Associated Memory Impairment


Alzheimer’s disease


Ben Cao Gang Mu ‘Materia Medica Classified by Section and Sub-section’

Chi dai

Traditional Chinese term that refers to dementia and similar disorders


Chinese Herbal Medicine

Jian wang

Traditional Chinese term that refers to forgetfulness or memory impairment

Lao nian chi dai

Modern Chinese term for senile dementia


Mild Cognitive Impairment


Other Cognitive Impairment in reference to the DSM IV-TR diagnostic criteria for Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type. The four OCI are Aphasia, Apraxia, Agnosia and Disturbance in executive functioning


Traditional Chinese Medicine


Vascular Dementia


Zhong Yao Da Ci Dian ‘Great Compendium of Chinese Medicines’


Zhong Yi Fang Ji Da Ci Dian ‘Great Compendium of Chinese Medical Formulae’



We thank the Preventive Health National Flagship Program, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) for providing partial funding support. The project is also partially supported by an International Grant from the Guangdong Provincial Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Guangdong Province, China. We thank Ms Chang Su-Yueh, Mr David Lu, Dr Iris Zhou and Dr Sheng Shu-Jun for their work in data extraction, compilation and scoring, Dr Tony Zhang, Dr Angela Yang and Prof Eddie Pang for comments. We also wish to thank the library staff at Hong Kong Baptist University and at the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine for their kind assistance with the literature search process.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian H. May
    • 1
  • Chuanjian Lu
    • 2
  • Louise Bennett
    • 3
  • Helmut M. Hügel
    • 4
  • Charlie C. L. Xue
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Traditional and Complementary Medicine Research Program, Health Innovations Research Institute; WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine, School of Health SciencesRMIT UniversityBundooraAustralia
  2. 2.Guangdong Provincial Academy of Chinese Medical SciencesGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Pre-clinical and Clinical Health SubstantiationCSIRO Food and Nutritional SciencesWerribeeAustralia
  4. 4.School of Applied Sciences [Applied Chemistry]RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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