What is Galla Chinensis?
For thousands of years, Chinese herbalists harnessed the healing powers of herbs and plants. The whole plant, including roots, stems, seeds and leaves, possesses a seemingly infinite wealth of natural ability to cure human ailments. With this ancient knowledge rooting back thousands of years, Chinese medicine has traditionally harnessed the use of dried herbs and their extracts to treat nearly anything from muscle ache to cancer. Galla chinensis is a good example of this.
Galla chinensis is a plant with many therapeutic properties that are well known to Chinese herbalists. It grows in the tropics and subtropics of eastern Asia, such as Japan and Malaysia. This plant is actually a shrub that can grow to nearly 8 meters tall. It can be adorned by creamy white flowers or with brightly colored fruits (x). Each of these fruits will have one seed, which also possesses its own therapeutic properties (x).
All the different parts of the plant, such as the bark, stem or flower, serve different therapeutic purposes (x). The fruit of this plant produces a sour juice that can cure diarrhea or other digestive upsets, including hepatitis. The seed, on the other hand, traditionally relieved cough, fever, jaundice and even malaria (x). The leaves were thought to stimulate circulation, cure inflammatory diseases and relieve stomachache (x). Moreover, the root could even aid with snakebites (x). In some instances, the gall of the plant was used to stop the bleeding following trauma (x). The gall has also been the object of most scientific studies today because of its high concentration of gallotannins (x).
Galla Chinensis Benefits
There are many medicinal benefits to using Galla chinensis. The therapeutic powers of this ancient herb lie in the chemical compounds inside the plant — especially the galls, which are abnormal protruding growths on leaves. Compounds include tannins, flavonoids, triterpenoids and phenolic compounds (x). Gallotannins are an especially important compound found within the galls containing gallic acid, which are responsible for many of the medicinal benefits of Galla chinensis. Additionally, the leaves of the plant also have many essential oils that are healthy to our diet, such as palmitic acid, phytol and heptacosane (x).
Galla chinensis can promote digestive health, which depends on many factors. One of these factors involve gut bacteria and the microbiome. Even healthy people have bacteria in their digestive tract, and it is perfectly normal, or even healthy, to have them. Healthy, “good” bacteria are necessary for us to properly digest the food we eat. On the other hand, disease-causing bacteria can also live in our digestive tract. Galla chinensis helps us fight these bad germs that cause digestive problems. One study found that this herbal medicine suppressed the growth of enterotoxic E. coli, the most common pathogen to cause diarrhea (x). Fighting off the diarrhea-causing bacteria is not only good because it prevents illness, but it also helps us keep good bacteria alive and healthy.
As previously mentioned, much of the digestive benefits of Galla chinensis comes from its ability to fight bacteria. But how does it do this? It turns out that this plant naturally produces its own hydrogen peroxide, which is a chemical that destroy germs (x). Researchers tested 16 different antimicrobial plants, and amongst this group of herbs, Galla chinenesis had the highest measured levels of hydrogen peroxide production (x). Hydrogen peroxide is likely the main reason why Galla chinensis is so good at helping us fight off diarrheal infections. It is capable of stopping the growth of the most common diarrhea-causing germs — even those that cause food poisoning (x).
Besides antibacterial activity, Galla chinensis has also demonstrated action against disease-causing viruses. This plant extract contains at least 17 different chemical compounds that can block the replication of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (x). Other studies in mice showed that Galla Chinensis extracts were also effective against the herpes simplex virus, even the strains that were resistant to modern day anti-viral medicines like acyclovir. Researchers have also found that the extract can help improve the efficacy of anti-viral medication, which was demonstrated in mouse studies of herpes infection (x).
Besides fighting off germs in our gut, Galla chinensis is also good for our oral health. In fact, it has gained a lot of popularity in dentistry to stave off tooth decay (x). The main chemical compound responsible for these benefits is gallic acid, found mostly in the gall of the plant (x). These extracts can be used to stop the growth of six common cavity-causing bacteria (x). Furthermore, scientists have reported its effectiveness in not only preventing demineralization of our enamel, but also promoting mineralization for repair (x). That means that it can help our teeth maintain the protective layer of enamel that is so important for preventing cavities.
Inflammation is a central culprit for many conditions including chronic pain and arthritis. It has also been implicated in promoting other diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Galla chinensis has been used traditionally for pain relief of inflammatory cause and is thought to have an analgesic effect too. However, little research is available to support this claim. Recently, researchers embarked on a mission to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of this herb. They discovered that the extract could block the release of cytokines and other signalling molecules in our body that promote inflammation (x). The same study also reported that the herb has pain relief effects, potentially making it a good alternative to modern-day pain medications (x). It’s possible that this plant-based therapy could be a great alternative to treating arthritis pain, sparing us the side effects of medicines we normally use.
Recent studies have also found potent antioxidant properties within the gallotannins found in Galla chinensis. Many of the chemicals within this category fight free radicals, which are toxins that destroy our cells through oxidative damage. The extracts with the highest levels of galloylation demonstrated the most powerful antioxidant activity. Methyl gallate and gallic acid were also compounds found to have free radical neutralizing power. These antioxidants can help our body protect cells from the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species and other toxins (x).
May Fight Cancer
For centuries, the Chinese have known of Galla chinenesis and its anti-inflammatory properties (x). As a result, the herb is a great candidate for preventing cancer. Inflammation is one of the driving forces of cancer, and this herb can help keep it at bay. Recently, scientists showed that the extract of Galla chinenesis halts the growth of breast cancer cells (x). They believe that this power is due to its ability to suppress an important enzyme associated with aggressive tumors (x).
Korean researchers also demonstrated reduced inflammation associated with smoking and lung cancer using Galla chinensis herbal extract. Yet another recent study found Galla chinensis to effectively cause stomach cancer cells to undergo apoptosis, a form of cell-mediated self-suicide (x). Though the data is limited to laboratory experiments, these studies provide more evidence pointing towards cancer-fighting benefits of Galla chinensis. However, more studies are needed, especially in human patients, to tease out the true effectiveness of this herb against cancer.
Other Galla Chinensis Benefits
Many of the benefits attributed to Galla chinenesis are based on folklore and ancient recordings of medical experience. However, recent studies have discovered some scientific evidence supporting a wide range of its health benefits. These include antiviral, antioxidant and even protective effects on the liver, which all can promote overall health. These potential therapeutic benefits were recently corroborated by scientists in various experiments (x). However, many of these studies are small or preliminary. More studies will be necessary to support the use of this medicinal plant and prove its true benefit to overall health.
Galla Chinensis Side Effects
Though there are many benefits to using Galla chinensis, any medicine comes with a small risk for toxicity. There is little research on how Galla chinensis is tolerated in humans when taken by mouth. A recent rat study evaluated the toxicity of this herb and found that toxic levels were only reached with high doses used chronically (x). Additional side effects from this study included nervous system suppression, liver damage and kidney damage only at high doses as well (x).
Though this herb promotes digestive health, high quantities could ironically cause stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea (x). Gallic acid, which is a compound found in this extract, can also affect one’s ability to absorb food properly (x). Tannins are known to decrease the ability to digest proteins and can also affect digestion of starch and the taste of food (x). Though most healthy adults can use this herb safely, it’s not recommended to ever exceed three times the daily-recommended dose. Like any other alternative remedy, it’s always best to ask your doctor if Galla chinensis is right for you.
Galla Chinensis Powder Dosage
When supplementing with Galla chinensis powder, it is best to take 1,500 mg (scant 1 ½ tsp) daily, or as otherwise directed by a physician. Of course, be sure to speak with a medical professional before adding this supplement to you regimen.
The Bottom Line
Galla chinensis is an ancient Chinese herbal plant that possesses many beneficial qualities for our health. These include digestive, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-cancer effects. Many of these benefits are not scientifically supported, though recent laboratory experiments have demonstrated evidence for some of these claims. Galla chinensis is generally safe for most healthy adults, though toxic side effects have been reported in animal studies when taken in high doses for long periods of time. Side effects may also include digestive upset with high dosing, as well as problems with nutrient absorption. As always, consult with your doctor before starting any new homeopathic therapy.
By: Lulu Wong