For more than 4,000 years around the globe, parts of Glycyrrhiza plants (licorice) have been used as a natural sweetener as well as a herbal medicine to treat a range of health conditions. Its effectiveness is once again reinforced in findings recently published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, where researchers note that components of the plant have the ability to potentially help stop metabolic disorders in their tracks.

TIn particular, they found that the compound isoliquiritigenin (ILG) in Glycyrrhiza uralensis is able to help prevent high-fat, diet-related obesity, fatty liver disease (hepatic steatosis) and type 2 diabetes by stopping activation of NLRP3, a protein involved in such diseases.(2)

Traditional Chinese medicine makes strides against obesity and type 2 diabetes

The study notes that “ILG potently attenuated HFD-induced obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and insulin resistance” in subjects that were fed a high-fat diet supplemented with ILG. To test effectiveness, other subjects in the study were fed just a high-fat diet, while others consumed a normal diet. Those with diet-related obesity, type 2 diabetes and hepatic steatosis benefited from ILG. Additional details from the study’s press release explain that “supplementation of ILG markedly improved these disorders.”

“Identification of small compounds that inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasome is required to design effective therapeutics,” said Kiyoshi Takatsu, Ph.D., Department of Immunobiology and Pharmacological Genetics, Graduate School of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Science for Research at the University of Toyama in Toyama Japan, who was involved in this discovery. “We hope that our findings will provide new information and strategies that can be exploited for the development of new herbal medication of those diseases.”

Indeed, it provides a great deal of hope for many with metabolic disorders, perhaps more so as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is becoming more widely accepted in Western cultures. Through the years, it’s gaining a stronghold in areas that have typically favoured, and abided by, modern medical approaches.

TCM gaining increased levels of mainstream acceptance

For example, the use of TCM is being more carefully considered around the world, with an eye on possibly incorporating more of it in mainstream medical techniques. While some experts maintain that more research regarding pharmacological effectiveness and the overall quality of TCM needs to be conducted, many are in agreement that the integration of TCM may be beneficial.

Of TCM use in Western cultures, Professor Guo De-an, chief scientist at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “Several major western drug firms have invested in industrial co-operation projects.” He has also explained that, while Chinese medicinal herbs are in use in places such as Singapore, Australia and southeast Asia, it’s not very common in the United States and Europe, which make up the majority of the worldwide pharmaceutical market.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 29 million people in the United States have diabetes. It’s estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually in total medical costs as well as lost work and wages related to diabetes complications. As far as carrying around excess weight and weight-related problems, over one-third of United States adults are obese.

“Obesity and associated metabolic disorders are one of the most important emerging medical conditions,” says John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, where the TCM study was published. “Recent work demonstrates a critical role for obesity-driven inflammation in a multitude of medical problems arising from obesity with a central role for the inflammasome. This new work not only identifies a novel class of potential inflammasome inhibitors, but also demonstrates effectiveness in a preclinical model of obesity induced disease.”