Capsules: Peonies and Dementia

Japanese scientists have linked peonies to treatments for dementia.

| September/October 1997

  • Peony

As the elderly population of Japan begins to outnumber the young, scientists at Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University are searching for medicines to enhance mental performance. They may have found one in a formula from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Specifically, the researchers are testing a compound found in the formula szu-wu-tang. The compound’s scientific name is paeoniflorin and it comes from the root of the peony (Paeonia lactiflora).

The researchers’ findings so far suggest that the compound may help treat senile dementia, a mental deterioration associated with old age. When they gave older, learning-impaired rats daily doses of paeoniflorin (0.01 mg/kg of body weight) for five weeks, the rats showed significant improvement in working and reference memory. The same dosage given to younger, normal rats had no effect. Neither group experienced bad reactions to the compound.

To see just how effective paeoniflorin really is, clinical research is still necessary; however, results so far suggest the compound has the potential to sharpen the mind’s performance.

The formula szu-wu-tang is used in Chinese medicine to treat childbirth ­fatigue, gynecological disorders, gastro­intestinal disturbances, dry skin, and bad complexions. It consists of equal parts of Angelica sinensis root, Rehmannia glutinosa root, the root crown of Ligusticum wallichii, and peony root.
—Kenneth Jones


Wang, Yu-ching, translator. “Handbook of Commonly Used Chinese Herbal Prescriptions Approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Pharmaceutical Affairs Bureau, Japan.” Bulletin of the ­Oriental Healing Arts Institute of U.S.A. 1983, 8(8):100.
Watanabe, H. “Candidates for cognitive enhancer extracted from medicinal plants: paeoniflorin and tetramethylpyrazine.” ­Behaviourial Brain Research 1997, 83: 135–141.
Watanabe, H., et al. “A kampo prescription, Shimotsu-to, improves ­scopolamine-induced spatial cognitive deficits in rats.” Japanese Journal of Psychopharmacology 1991, 11:215–222.

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