Natural products could be as effective as synthetic drugs, although the odds are low

In a first-ever comprehensive study of 124 natural product combinations, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Tsinghua University, led by Professor Chen Yu Zong from the Department of Pharmacy at the NUS Faculty of Science, found that certain combinations of natural products can be as effective as man-made drugs in acting against specific disease processes. However, the chances of finding the effective combination of natural products could be as low as below 3 per cent. 

Natural product combinations as potent as man-made drugs

Published in in November 2012, the research showed that active ingredients in combinations of natural products can achieve the same level of potency as synthetic anticancer and but they have to be taken in larger quantities or for a longer period of time. These combinations include such as the Realgar-Indigo naturalis formula designed for the treatment of leukaemia, Wedelia chinensis for anti-inflammatory purposes and used in Japan for the treatment of gastroenteritis.

Through an analysis of more than 1,601 previous studies conducted on natural products and 190 man-made drugs, the researchers found that natural products are generally 10 to 100 times weaker than man-made drugs. They concluded that combinations of natural products can achieve the same strength as man-made drugs, but with current traditional practices, the odds are low.

Prof Chen said, "There have been claims that natural products simply have a . In our study, we looked at more than 100 types of natural product combinations that are perceived to be the best and found that it is possible for natural products to achieve the same effectiveness as man-made drugs. However, the probability of finding such combinations based on traditional methods is low (below 3 per cent) as the natural products have to be of sufficient potency and taken in the right combination."

Next steps for research on natural products

The findings from this research provide a foundation for further studies on the clinical effectiveness of herbal medicine and how a combination of natural products and synthetic drugs can be taken together to fight diseases.

The team will continue to conduct more research in this area, in particular, to determine how to achieve the same level of effectiveness for natural products as synthetic drugs. Their research will focus on popular herbal products and frequently prescribed traditional medicine.

More information: Qin C., et al. What Does It Take to Synergistically Combine Sub-Potent Natural Products into Drug-Level Potent Combinations? PLoS ONE 7(11): e49969. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049969

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

No double standards for natural health products

Nov 14, 2011

Natural health products and medicinal foods should be subject to the same regulations as pharmaceutical drugs to ensure safety and efficacy, states an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Most new pesticides have roots in natural substances

Jun 27, 2012

Scientists who search for new pesticides for use in humanity's battle of the bugs and other threats to the food supply have been learning lessons from Mother Nature, according to a new analysis. It concludes ...

Researchers help find natural products potential of frankia

Aug 03, 2011

Soil-dwelling bacteria of the genus Frankia have the potential to produce a multitude of natural products, including antibiotics, herbicides, pigments, anticancer agents, and other useful products, according to an article ...

FDA seizes sexual enhancement products

Apr 10, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the seizure by U.S. marshals of more than 14,000 units of Shangai- and Naturale-brand diet supplements.

Recommended for you

Using computers to design drugs

Aug 22, 2014

Designing a new medicine is an expensive and time consuming business. Typically it takes around $2 billion and ten years for a new drug to move from its initial design in the lab, to the clinic. All the ...

Lilly psoriasis drug fares well in late-stage test

Aug 22, 2014

Drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. said its potential psoriasis treatment fared better than both a fake drug and a competitor's product during late-stage testing on patients with the most common form of the skin disease.

New US restrictions on painkiller to take effect

Aug 21, 2014

The federal government is finalizing new restrictions on hundreds of medicines containing hydrocodone, the highly addictive painkiller that has grown into the most widely prescribed drug in the U.S.

User comments