25 July 2014

Asia Plantation Capital studies the benefits of agarwood

Asia Plantation Capital
In a new investment programme Asia Plantation Capital (APC) is engaging academics in Southeast Asia to explore the science behind agarwood, also called gaharu, jinkoh, aloeswood, and oud. Agarwood is obtained from certain trees, typically Aquilaria, which have been infected by a type of mould, and is fairly rare, making it one of the most precious substances in the world.

The aim to identify key areas for crucial analysis and eventual preclinical trials, a fundamental process towards gaining approval and acceptance by medical authorities in Europe and America.

In Thailand, APC has been working with Prince Songkhla University where Prof. Pakamas Chetpattananondh is leading their assault on driving change from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to recognised global scientific acceptance, with a particular focus on the anti-oxidant properties of agarwood.

A search through Pubmed shows that there has been a fair amount of research on producing agarwood, but not much in the way of formal medical research on the material. A 2010 report noted that an extract of leaves from Aquilaria sinensis trees, which produce agarwood, caused a laxative effect in rats. 

Back in 1996, an extract of Japanese jinkoh medicine, which is from agarwood, was found to be neuroleptic. Neuroleptic drugs  reduce confusion and agitation in psychotic patients and help to control psychomotor disorders. And in 2011, a mix of fungi were extracted from agarwood and tested separately. Some of 23 fungi displayed antitumor activity against at least one of five cancer cell lines, while 13 fungi inhibited some growth of at one of six bacterial strains.

APC says that TCM already uses agarwood to relieve spasms and pain, treat the digestive system, regulate the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver), and to lower and redirect energy levels to support the kidneys. It is also used to treat tightness in the chest, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and asthma.

APC notes that there is a thriving TCM ecosystem around agarwood. The company cites data provided by the Committee on Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy, which is under Taiwan's Department of Health: 

  • There are 47 valid manufacturing licences for prepared TCM products containing agarwood powder as an ingredient. Recommended daily dosages of between 1.5-3g apply for different medical purposes. 
  • These include 42 that are over-the-counter medicines and five restricted as medicines on prescription or for hospital use only; 42 are oral medicines, two for external use and three without specific description. 
  • Among these over 80% of the items contain less than 6% of agarwood in each dosage. 

Barry Rawlinson, CEO Asia Pacific for APC, commented: "Traditional Chinese medicines are now used the world over, even forming the basis of many alternative health treatments in the West. With the organic processes used on our agarwood plantations Asia Plantation Capital is well placed to help international pharmaceutical companies, especially as they continue their search for new medicines to combat recognised conditions and increase research on the international aspect of new contagions."

APC is already producing agarwood tea using leaves from selected organic agarwood plantations in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Last year saw them launch agarwood rice containing nutritional supplements developed from processed plantation agarwood trees. For some mild skin conditions they are also selling an agarwood soap.

At the 1st International Scientific Symposium on Agarwood (ISSA) in September 2013 the laxative property of agarwood leaves was confirmed and Japanese researchers announced the imminent launch of a related product. The conference also confirmed that Aquilaria Crassna leaf extracts possess antipyretic, analgesic and anti-oxidative properties without noticeable anti-inflammatory activity. Another presenter promoted agarwood leaf as a promising potential anti-diabetic agent. There was even a report of one diabetic patient significantly decreasing their blood glucose by drinking a water infusion of agarwood leaf instead of water for six months. Agarwood leaf extracts are known to possess antipyretic, laxative and antimicrobial activities.

Rawlinson said, "It is not only China where agarwood has been used in medicines for more than one thousand years, traditional uses extend across Asia and into India within Ayurveda, even the Middle East where agarwood chips and Oud oil have a long established high value market. At Asia Plantation Capital we are working to carry this cultural heritage forward scientifically based upon sound environmental practices."