Five dietary supplement research centers focusing on studies of botanical products have been jointly funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), both components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Research conducted by these centers will advance the scientific base of knowledge about the safety, effectiveness, and mechanisms of action of botanicals.
Botanical products are widely used by many Americans despite a lack of evidence for most regarding whether they are safe or effective. The 2002 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 38.2 million American adults (about 19 percent) use nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products, primarily botanical supplements.
“Given that millions of Americans are using natural products, these research centers are critical to helping us determine whether and by what mechanisms botanicals may serve as effective treatments or preventive approaches,” said Stephen E. Straus, M.D., NCCAM Director. “The five centers we are funding will investigate the use of a variety of widely consumed botanicals, from flaxseed to tarragon, for a range of diseases and conditions that affect many Americans, such as asthma, atherosclerosis, cataracts, and cancer.”
Details on the recipients of these 5-year botanical research center grants are listed below.
Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases
Principal Investigator: Connie Weaver, Ph.D.
Partner Institutions: Purdue University, West LaFayette, IN; University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Researchers in this collaborative program will investigate the health effects of polyphenols (a diverse group of chemical components widely distributed in plants) from sources such as soy and kudzu. They will study the ability of these agents to prevent and treat common conditions associated with aging, including osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and cataracts.
Botanical Dietary Supplements for Women’s Health
Principal Investigator: Norman Farnsworth, Ph.D.
Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago, IL (UIC)
This center focuses on herbal supplements with implications for benefit in women’s health. For example, UIC scientists are conducting a clinical trial to determine if black cohosh and red clover provide relief of menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. In addition to conducting basic and clinical research looking at standardization, metabolism, and toxicity of botanicals, the center will support research training in pharmacognosy (the study of natural products).
Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome
Principal Investigator: William Cefalu, M.D.
Partner Institutions: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana
State University System, Baton Rouge, LA; Center of Agriculture and the Environment of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Researchers will study extracts of Russian tarragon, Shilianhua (a Chinese herbal product), and grape seed and how they may influence molecular and cellular processes associated with the metabolic syndrome, which consists of obesity, insulin resistance, development of type 2 diabetes, and accelerated cardiovascular disease.
MSKCC Research Center for Botanical Immunomodulators
Co-Principal Investigators: Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., and Philip Livingston, M.D.
Partner Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY; The Rockefeller University, New York, NY; the Institute of Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China
This center will investigate botanicals with reported ability to modulate immune function—echinacea, astralgus, turmeric, maitake, and a traditional Chinese formula—and their relevance for the treatment of cancer and infectious disease.
Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids
Principal Investigator: Floyd Chilton, Ph.D.
Partner Institutions: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
This center will examine biological mechanisms and clinical applications of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from botanicals, such as flaxseed, echium, and borage. The studies will focus on the anti-inflammatory actions of botanical oils and their potential to prevent and treat inflammatory diseases, such as atherosclerosis and asthma.
“In 1999, NIH developed a botanical research center initiative with major research institutions across the nation,” said Paul Coates, Ph.D., Director of ODS. “These five centers will continue to fulfill the goal of this initiative to foster interdisciplinary collaborative research, in order to identify potential health benefits and to develop a systematic evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of botanicals, particularly those available as dietary supplements.”