TRADITIONAL HERBAL MEDICINE IS USED BY APPROXIMATELY 65% OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION(i) AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM), WHICH INCORPORATES HERBAL MEDICINE INTO ITS PRACTICES, HAS DEVELOPED OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS AND IS STILL AN IMPORTANT MEDICAL PRACTICE THAT’S USED IN CHINA AND OTHER COUNTRIES TO THIS DAY(ii).
Traditional medicine, including TCM, is providing guidance for drug development as pharmaceutical and medical researchers look for bioactive molecules (compounds that affect cells and tissue) present in the plants and other organisms used in traditional formulations(iii). Today, at least 25% of western drugs are either compounds produced by plants or are based entirely on plant compounds(iv). Believing that plants produce bioactive molecules is not difficult. Given they lack a nervous system and the ability to move, they must interact with their world using chemical communication; namely by enticing, defending, healing, and attacking. Many of the compounds they produce can and do, interact with our physiology.
The Traditional Chinese liniment Dit Da Jow is commonly used by martial artists of many different styles, including Wing Chun, to treat impact trauma and to condition fists(v). Dit Da Jow contains a variety of Chinese herbs, fungi, and insects, which are cooked, dried, and then soaked in an alcohol solvent and subsequently aged. The recipes are closely guarded, with Wing Chun practitioners often obtaining the liniment through long martial lineages, although commercial preparations of the product are also available.
Dit Da Jow purportedly stimulates healing and blood flow, reduces pain, bruising and swelling, and strengthens soft tissue and bones; with the ageing process ostensibly strengthening the healing properties above that of the younger varieties. Through use, we learned the true medicinal value of Dit Da Jow but were curious about whether or not our own knowledge could be supported scientifically.
With the assistance of Dr. Boudell, a professor of Biology and an ardent scientist, we conducted a case study to determine the bioactive molecules present in several batches and formulations of Dit Da Jow liniment and will be presenting our findings, including GCMS results, during the first session of Ethnomedicine at the Society of Ethnobiology and Society for Economic Botany Conference in Cherokee, NC, USA in May—prior to publication.
For our study, we examined two batches of a traditionally prepared formulation aged for one and five years respectively, and a commercial formulation, using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS). GCMS is a highly sensitive analytical technique used to identify substances in samples. As an interesting side-story, during this process, I found it entertaining to learn that the word science(!) should always be followed by an exclamation mark.
All of our tested Dit Da Jow liniments contained aromatic scents and compounds with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. However, there were significant differences between traditional and commercial formulations. Although both batches of traditional Dit Da Jow were made using the same recipe, the older preparation contained more bioactive molecules than the younger preparation; as would be expected in a less mature liniment. The younger formulation contained more bioactive molecules than the commercial formulation.
The five-year batch of traditionally prepared Dit Da Jow contained many active small molecules, and much fewer large molecules compared to the younger Jow. The presence of the numerous small compounds in the older Jow was caused by the continuing degradation of biological ingredients in the alcohol solvent. It is also likely that the large molecules originally present in the younger Jow eventually broke down into smaller molecules. This larger number of smaller molecules had more possible interactions, and therefore more opportunities to create new and different molecules. Together, these processes resulted in a liniment that contained a very rich variety of bioactive molecules.
A partial list of identified bioactive compounds found in the Five-Year Jow includes:
• Acetic acidx(ii) – antiseptic
• Acetoglyceride(xv) – skin conditioner
• Columbianetin(xiii) – anti-inflammatory
• Coumarin(vi) – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, analgesic
• Rhododendrol(xiv) – increases skin elasticity
• Vanillin – antibacterial
The one-year batch of traditionally prepared Dit Da Jow contained fewer small molecules and more large molecules in comparison to the older Jow. These results are as expected because biological ingredients release bioactive molecules during degradation, and this process takes time. The younger Jow contained several smaller bioactive compounds.
The GCMS we used does not identify large molecules. However, based on our own knowledge of the ingredients used in the traditionally prepared Dit Da Jow, the literature research conducted on the large bioactive molecules known to be present in these ingredients(xi), and the presence of large molecules in the one-year Jow, it is probable that at least some of the unidentified large molecules were bioactive compounds that affect bone health.
A partial list of identified bioactive compounds in the One-Year Jow includes:
• Chrysophanic acid – purported antibacterial and skin conditioning agent(x)
• Coumarin – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, analgesic
• Salicylic acid– antimicrobial(ix), skin softener(viii), treats superficial inflammation(vii)
• Vasodilator – increases blood flow
• Unknown large molecules – purported benefits to bone health
The commercially prepared Jow contained more scents than bioactive compounds and was void of larger molecules completely. The commercially prepared Jow primarily contained acetic acid (the main ingredient in vinegar) and salicylic acid (the active compound found in aspirin).
The list of identified bioactive compounds in the commercial Jow includes:
• Acetic acid – antiseptic
• Salicylic acid – antimicrobial, treats superficial inflammation (inflammation to just below the skin surface), softens skin
It is not surprising to learn that the traditionally prepared Dit Da Jow contained a variety of bioactive compounds that are clearly beneficial for fist conditioning and impact trauma. The liniment is grounded in the long history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which utilises the secret language of plants—chemistry (and science!).
The carefully combined plants, fungi, and insects that degraded and released their compounds into the alcohol over time produced a liniment rich with bioactive molecules. This time-dependent natural process also created differences between the aged liniments, with each containing unique bioactive compounds with known efficacy that can all be useful for different applications(1).
The older five-year Jow contained a rich range of bioactive molecules. The compounds are effective for impact trauma and skin conditioning. The one-year Jow contained the potent combination of coumarin and salicylic acid, and evidence suggests, additional molecules that affect bone health. These compounds are effective for the treatment of minor impact trauma, as well as fist and skin conditioning. The commercial Jow contained only acetic acid and salicylic acid, which are also beneficial for skin conditioning and the treatment of superficial inflammation.
Overall we found that the traditionally prepared liniment created a cornucopian cocktail—a bounty of known bioactive molecules during the ageing process as the organisms selected by highly experienced TCM physicians degraded to produce the elixir we commonly understand to be Dit Da Jow.
Dit Da Jow can expedite your fist conditioning efforts and soothe aching fists(1). Choose your Jow wisely, and seek guidance from your Sifu and doctor when needed. The knowledge you gain can only serve to enrich your Wing Chun training and enjoyment.
NOTE: Dr. Boudell made me write about the limitations of our case study to ensure the integrity of the science, so here it is: While GCMS is a highly reliable and sensitive analytical technique, we only sampled a single batch from each formulation. Also, the identification of large and smaller molecules using GCMS requires different use of methods. For this study, we were only able to identify small molecules. Batches of Dit Da Jow can produce different results if the recipe and preparation method varies. Finally, organisms, particularly plants, are highly sensitive to their environment and the dosage of the bioactive molecules they produce can vary. Further studies will attempt to identify larger molecules alongside dosage information of bioactive molecules that are present in the Jows examined in this study. I would also like to thank Joe Mikula’s assistance with the GCMS.
For more information about Sifu Wayne Belonoha, please visit the website here.
Co-author Dr. Jere A. Boudell Ph.D. is a plant biologist and Professor of Biology. Visit website.
NOTE: Clayton State University© is a Senior Unit of the University System of Georgia, and is not affiliated in any way with Clayton College of Natural Health.
(1) We do not intend to provide medical advice nor have the US Food and Drug Association evaluated these statements.
(i)Farnsworth et al. 1985
(ii)Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 2003, Hinrichs and Barnes 2013
(iii)Fabricant and Farnsworth 2001, Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 2003
(iv)Farnsworth et al. 1985
(v)Barnes 2013, Belonoha 2013
(vi)Soine 1964, deSouza et al. 2005, Fylakatakidou et al. 2004, Radulovic et al. 2006
(vii)Singh and Roberts 1994
(viii)Davies and Marks 1976
(x)Cambie, R.C. and J. Ash
(xi)Wang et al. 2013
(xiii)Jeong et al. 2009
(xiv)Harada et al. 2008
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