In functional medicine, we apply both the best of natural and the best of conventional medicine to bear upon the root and the fruit of whole person dysfunction. This means understanding the therapies we use in terms of their mechanisms and targets and applying them in a personalized fashion to each patient. In order to best guide our patients, we also teach them how their body works and how the therapies we recommend work to restore balance, relieve symptoms and recover healthier lives. Today we share insights on a new “friend” of ours, houttuynia.
Houttuynia came to our attention as an effective therapy in tick borne infections, particularly Bartonella where we are seeing significant benefits especially in patients who want to avoid the standard therapy of antibiotics. As many of these Bartonella patients also present with Lyme disease, we have had the opportunity to witness benefits for these patients as well. Several well-known naturopaths and integrative types provide the background which led to our use of this therapy to support the immune system in overcoming these chronic tick borne illnesses conditions.
With this growing excitement at Sanctuary, I thought a little review would serve my staff, my patients, and the public well. I had heard houttuynia being used for other conditions from parasites to recently world famous viruses. The research I found was even more intriguing and will provide a rabbit hole to explore for some time.
Houttuynia grows primarily in Asian regions, being used for centuries in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese medicine as well as Indian medicine. Houttuynia cordata grows in moist and shady places. Their primary use focused on lung disease like pneumonia and lung abscesses as well as muscular sprains, stomach ulcers, and more. They also combined it with other therapies to treat colds, fevers, mumps, and dysentery. Various parts of the plant are edible and provide similar chemicals and health benefits.
Contemporary research has identified many of its likely active components. These include alkaloids, Phenols, oils, flavonoids like quercetin and rutin, saponins, and terpenoids among others. These components have shown benefits in the immune system, the mucosa of various body areas and in lowering inflammation. It even demonstrates some anti-tumor effects.
Clinical Uses and Mechanisms:
Various conditions in which inflammation contribute to dysfunction of the lung have shown potential benefits from houttuynia. Oxidative stress may be reduced. Pulmonary edema can be lowered. Damage in mouse models of H1NA influenza have shown protective effects. Some are studying in in regards to its potential in pulmonary fibrosis recovery.
Various studies listed in the paper describe benefits of houttuynia for the GI tract. Intestinal barriers can be strengthened. Alleviating the negative effects of salmonella infection have been reported. Reactions to LPS (lipopolysaccharide) have been reduced. NF-kB, a major inflammation pathway was shown to be downregulated. The microbiome of patients appears altered by this herb.
Various research has demonstrated the benefits of natural products in preventing or treating liver disease. Various terpendoids, alkaloids glycosides, and coumarins have shown potential in liver fibrosis (Ma et al., 2020a) while rutin and quercetin show potential in fatty liver (Ma et al., 2020b) For houttuynia, an extract showed “significant antioxidant” activity in a mouse model for chemically induced liver injury. Lower liver enzymes in the blood and lower markers of fatty acid oxidation were found. In an ethanol stress mouse model, houttuynia extract lowered oxidative factors through CYP2E1 enzyme.
In a mouse model, houttuynia improved a number of clinical and biomarkers of heart damage in diabetic mice. In other mouse models, houttuynia reduced myocardial damage and hypertrophy. Overall, inflammation appeared to be lowered by houttuynia administration.
In kidney research on mice, houttuynia lowered markers of inflammation. In diabetic mice. Improvements in kidney function markers were found with ongoing administration of houttuynia water. Receptor of advanced glycation end products (RAGE) were lowered which might lead to lower reactive oxygen species in the kidneys (Hsu et al., 20216). The NF-kB pathway was downregulated in another study (Pan et al., 2010).
Several types of tumors have been studied in how they respond to houttuynia dosing. Lung, liver, colon, gastric carcinoma, leukemia, and breast cancer have all been evaluated as potential targets of houttuynia or its constituents. Promising results have been report although further research is needed for widespread use.
Anti-inflammatory Effects and Immune Modulation
Extracts of houttuynia have been applied and tested in a number of inflammatory conditions. Some studies indicate a downregulation of mast cell activity. Mast cells play a central role in mediating inflammation, especially in allergic diseases. As noted earlier, ND-kB, a major pathway for inflammation was inhibited (Kim et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2013). One study suggested a benefit in interstitial cystitis (li et al., 2020). Several other inflammatory pathways have been modulated in experimental studies by houttuynia. In two studies, houttuynia showed promise as an agent to lower inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (lie et al., 2014; Li and Zhao, 2015).
The polyphenols from houttuynia have demonstrated particular anti-allergenic activity. (Shim et al., 2009). Several different pathways for this allergic suppression have been studied and reported. Particular immune cell activity as well as modulation of various cytokines have been reported.
Houttuynia or its extracts have been studied against a variety of infectious agents. The herpes family of viruses, primarily HSV-1 and HSV-2 have shown some susceptibility to the components of houttuynia. Others have found potential for activity of houttuynia against influenza. This seemed to occur through inhibition of neuraminidase activity. In other studies efficacy against novel coronaviruses were promising but much more research is needed. Others have studied its success against drug resistant bacterial infections like staph aureus as well as pseudomonas.
In our clinic we have seen both “herx” reactions and recovery from the use of houttuynia. However, there are no published studies. Dr. Buhner and Dr. Rawls are two naturally minding and well known practitioners who advocate for the use of houttuynia in the treatment of Bartonella. Their sites claim success over the years with these therapies among others.
There appears to be little in terms of side effects. Like any other therapy, side effects and allergies are possible. Few side effects have been documented in the literature.
Overall, houttuynia offers a number of potential clinical benefits in a multiplicity of health areas. Helping our patients live healthier more abundant lives means we comb the literature and build off other doctor’s experiences. Houttuynia is another welcome addition to our functional medicine tool box.
Wu, Z., Deng, X., Hu, Q., Xiao, X., Jiang, J., Ma, X., & Wu, M. (2021). Houttuynia cordata Thunb: An Ethnopharmacological Review. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 714694. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.714694
*(Articles cited above are listed in the Primary Article)
Other Articles of Interest:
Shingnaisui, K., Dey, T., Manna, P., & Kalita, J. (2018). Therapeutic potentials of Houttuynia cordata Thunb. against inflammation and oxidative stress: A review. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 220, 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2018.03.038
Laldinsangi C. (2022). The therapeutic potential of Houttuynia cordata: A current review. Heliyon, 8(8), e10386. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2022.e10386
Rafiq, S., Hao, H., Ijaz, M., & Raza, A. (2022). Pharmacological Effects of Houttuynia cordata Thunb (H. cordata): A Comprehensive Review. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 15(9), 1079. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph15091079
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.