Shihu, a highly valued herb in traditional Chinese medicine, can help reduce inflammation, says study

The Dendrobium genus of orchids is commonly used as ornamental plants across the globe. However, data from a study has revealed that these unique flowering plants may also offer some health benefits.

Dendrobium is a genus of almost 1,500 species of epiphytic orchids. Dendrobium species are native to areas such as tropical and subtropical Asia, various Pacific islands, and Australia.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use shihu (Dendrobii caulis) to treat conditions such as stomach issues. Shihu can also be used to boost body fluid production, reduce heat, and boost the available energy (“tonify”) “Yin”/dark energy in the body.

More than 30 Dendrobium species are used as ingredients in TCM remedies, and some studies imply that shihu contains some compounds that could have inhibitory effects on macrophage inflammation.

Shihu’s anti-inflammatory properties

The scientists who authored the study reported that shihu might have anti-inflammatory activities. In the study, the researchers examined the effects of eight different Dendrobium species using the mouse macrophage cell line RAW 264.7, which was activated via lipopolysaccharide (LPS).

The researchers measured nitric oxide (NO) levels with a Griess reagent while the pro-inflammatory cytokines were verified via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). For the study, Western blotting analysis was used to measure the protein expressions of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), inducible NO synthase (iNOS), and mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) phosphorylation.

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MAPKs refer to a group of related kinases that control the activity of intracellular proteins through phosphorylation, which may result in changes in gene expression and protein synthesis.

The study findings showed that out of the eight Dendrobium species, water extracts from only two Dendrobium species, D. thyrsiflorum and D. chrysotoxum, had considerable inhibitory effects on NO production in a concentration-dependent manner.

The researchers commented that DTW was effective in reducing interleukin-6 (IL-6), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) production. This data is significant because:

  • An endogenous chemical, interleukin-6 (IL-6) is active in inflammation and B cell maturation. IL-6 is an immune protein, and as a pyrogen, it is responsible for fever in autoimmune and infectious or non-infectious disease. The body produces IL-6 wherever there is either acute or chronic inflammation (e.g., burns, cancers, infection, or trauma).
  • Monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) is a member of the small inducible gene (SIG) family. It is involved in the recruitment of monocytes to sites of injury and infection. MPC-1 has been found in the joints of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. It is possible that MCP-1 recruits macrophages and triggers inflammation in the joints. MCP-1 is also known as small inducible cytokine A2 (SCYA2) and monocyte chemotactic and activating factor (MCAF).
  • Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) is a multifunctional cytokine. It is primarily secreted by lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer (NK) cells.

Testing also determined that DTW can halt iNOS and COX-2 expression, which implies that DTW’s inhibitory effects on LPS-induced macrophage inflammation were achieved via the suppression of MAPK pathways.

The test results helped confirm that shihu is an effective traditional Chinese remedy. The research team is hopeful that one day, continued research on D. thyrsiflorum will produce an effective adjuvant therapy for inflammation. (Related: Pomegranate juice found to combat systemic inflammation throughout the body.)

The study was published in the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines.

Read more articles about shihu and other natural remedies for inflammatory disorders at

Sources include: 1 2 3

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