Research Paper Summary: Chemical ingredients, Pharmacological Effects and Clinical Applications of Polyrhachis Ant Extract

The Chemical Ingredients, Pharmacological Effects and Clinical Applications of Chinese Ant Extract Preparations

Yi Zhao, Miao Liu, Yuxiang Ma, Xiaoyan Wang, Shigeru Okada and Akitane Mori, published in: Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guanxi College of TCM, Nanning, China; Chinese National Department of Public Health, Department of Pathology; and Institute of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, Okayama University Medical School, Okayama, Japan, 2001. This paper has not been published online. What follows is our summary:

This comprehensive paper by Dr. Yi Zhao summarizes the results of many earlier studies of the chemical composition, pharmacological effects and non-toxicity of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract. These studies show strong evidence of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, with some suggestion of immune-boosting and positive effects on sexual function. Dr. Zhao is the leading authority on Extract of Polyrhachis vicina Roger and has extensively studied the Extract for over 20 years. This paper was published by his home University and Hospital in Nanning, China, in the Chinese National Department of Health, and in Okayama University in Japan when he was visiting professor there.

History of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract

Dr. Zhao outlines the history of Polyrhachis Extract in China, and the use of ants as food and medicine around the world. He notes that medicinal usage is remarkably consistent for joint pain (rheumatism and arthritis), as an anti-aging and health tonic, wound care, and improved sexual function.

Chemical Composition of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract

There are many known beneficial bioactive compounds in Extract of Polyrhachis:

Proteins and Amino Acids
- Ants are extremely high in protein, explaining their use as food in many cultures. Compared even to quality protein sources like animal liver, muscle and kidney, Ant Extract shows extraordinarily higher levels of protein, valine, methionine, isoleucine, leucine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, arginine and lysine. This is potent nutritional cocktail.

Trace Elements - Atom absorption spectrograph analysis reveals manganese, zinc and selenium in high concentrations compared to animal protein food sources. Dr. Zhao feels these trace elements may contribute to the beneficial effects of Ant Extract on immunity, anti-aging and arthritis.

Vitamins - Polyrhachis Extract is rich in carotenoids and vitamin E. Dr. Zhao notes that vitamin E is the major lipid peroxidation chain-breaking antioxidant in lipid domains [in other words, a known anti-oxidant agent whose mechanism is understood].

Acids and Aldehydes - Formic acid and citral aldehyde are found in significant quantities. Citral aldehyde affects energy metabolism and could account for evidence of immune-boosting effects of Ant Extract. Dr. Zhao felt that formic acid could be related to the effect on rheumatoid arthritis, and recommended further study.

Other Ingredients of Note - ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the single most important molecule to cellular respiration, which could account for immune-boosting effects. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) [a known anti-oxidant]

- Testosterone, Progesterone, Corticosterone and Estradiol, all hormones that promote sexual function, which could account for folk usage to improve sexual function and explain positive effect in study of sexual function in mice.

[NOTE: Polyrhacitides A and B had not been discovered at the time of Dr. Zhao's paper.]

Anti-inflammatory Effects of Ant Extract

Extract of Polyrhachis was found, in several different studies, to remarkably inhibit swelling dose-dependently using the xylol-induced ear swelling model in mice, the formaldehyde-induced paw swelling model in rats, and shown to inhibit vascular permeability using the acetic acid-induced peritonitis model in mice. These tests are considered standard indicators of anti-inflammatory activity. The potency of the Extract was shown to match or exceed that of antipyrene and hydrocortisone, and reduced inflammation by as much as 70% over the untreated control group.

Anti-oxidant Effects

Polyrhachis Extract exhibits dose-dependent anti-oxidant protection as demonstrated by inhibited necrotic reaction of proximal tubules in rat kidneys, accompanied by reduced presence of thiobarbiturate reactive substances (TBARS). This was tested using both the Fe-NTA-induced nephrotoxicity model and the CCl4-induced subcutaneous infection model. In addition, anti-lipoperoxidative action was observed in treated rat liver homogenate in vitro as evidenced by significant reduction in TBARS, with similar results achieved using rat brain homogenate.

Free-radical Scavenging Action

In separate tests, free radical scavenging action of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract on DPPH (1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl), superoxide and hydroxyl radicals was examined using spin spectometry. DPPH radicals were quenched at a rate of 50% by the extract at 18mg/ml. Superoxide and hydroxyl radicals were quenched at the same rate at 0.5mg/ml and 1.8mg/ml respectively.

Liver-protective Effects

Medicinal Ant Extract showed a marked protective effect against liver damage in the carbon tretrachloride-induced subcutaneous infection model in rats, mice and rabbits.

Clinical Studies of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract for Rheumatoid Arthritis

16,015 rheumatoid arthritis patients were treated at the Nanning hospital from 1980-1990 with Polyrhachis Extract. Diagnosis was based on the 1977 American standard for rheumatic disease [since revised in 1986 and 2010]. The duration of the illness ranged from 15 days to 30 years. The most common symptoms were swelling and deformity of joints, limitation of motion, morning stiffness, increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ERS), positive serologic test for rheumatoid factor (RF) or corresponding roenterological changes. Results were:

Clinically Cured 10.5% - as evidenced by complete disappearance of clinical symptoms and arthritis signs such as inflammation, pain, swelling, morning stiffness, ESR, RF, serum mucoprotein, immuno-globulin, and x-ray evidence, with no recurrence within 6 months.

Improved 89.1% - Essential disappearance or improvement in symptoms and arthritic signs as outlines above.

Ineffective 0.38% - No change in signs or symptoms after treatment.

Therapeutic effects were first seen about 2 weeks after start of treatment and remarkable improvement manifested in 8 to 12 weeks.

[NOTE: The results of the clinical study of 16,015 rheumatoid arthritis cases were included in the larger study of 18,435 cases of rheumatoid arthritis.]

Clinical Studies of Chinese Medicinal Ant Extract for Chronic Hepatitis

648 cases of chronic hepatitis were treated from 1990-1995. Therapeutic efficacy was assessed according to these criteria:

Clinically Cured 55.09% - Complete disappearance of clinical symptoms and signs of hepatitis, liver function, HBsAG, anti-HBs, HBeAG, ant-HBe anti-HBc etc. with no recurrence after 6 months.

Improved 28.2%
- Essential disappearance or improvement in symptoms and signs of hepatitis such as improved liver function, SGPT reduced under 50IU/ml. HBsAG drop degree was decreased, with few or no relapses within 6 months.

Ineffective 16.7% - No change in signs or symptoms after treatment.

The study concludes with the observation that although the mechanism is not understood, the effectiveness of Polyrhachis Ant Extract is very likely due to its free-radical scavenging activity, explaining its effect on free-radical related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic hepatitis, and recommends further study and development to serve the health of mankind.