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    A Complete Guide to Sophora Japonica

    A Complete Guide to Sophora Japonica
    October 10, 2023 Vitality Pro

    A Complete Guide to Sophora Japonica

    A large majority of health-protecting compounds are extracted from natural sources, such as the leaves, stems, roots, bark, flowers and seeds of trees, shrubs and plants. The Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) is one such plant that has a wide range of uses, both in traditional medicine and in the context of modern science.

    Also known as the Chinese scholar tree, Sophora japonica is a medium-sized tree that has attractive flowers and fascinating seed pods. Its constituents are used in a range of herbal medicines and supplements intended to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and even certain cancers.

    Read on to learn more about the uses of Sophora japonica, the history of its use, its health benefits, and the existing scientific research supporting these benefits.

    What is Sophora Japonica?

    The Sophora japonica is a deciduous tree that grows up to 23m (75 feet) in height. These trees have round, broad crowns and are often grown as ornamental plants in shaded garden areas. They are native to China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and other Asian countries and grow prolifically throughout these regions.

    These trees have verdant green leaves that resemble the leaves of a fern, with each leaf composed of up to 15 leaflets. The foliage turns a striking yellow colour in autumn. Sophora japonica trees start to flower around the age of 10 years, producing panicles of fragrant white flowers at each branch tip. The tree’s blooming season begins late in the summer and continues until autumn, with the flowers lasting around one month before turning into ornamental seed pods.

    Sophora japonica trees thrive in USDA zones 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 and grow best in well-draining, rich soil and full sun. However, they tolerate shade well, making them suitable for shaded gardens and walkways. These trees prefer moderate watering and will require little care once they are fully established. They are drought and heat tolerant too.

    Alternate Names

    Sophora japonica is known both as the Japanese pagoda tree and the Chinese scholar tree. In China, the plant is also referred to as Huai or Huaihua and is used widely in traditional medicine. 

    While S. japonica is the most widely cited scientific name for the tree, it is also referred to in literature as Styphnolobium japonicum at times.

    History of Use

    The Japanese pagoda tree has a long history of ethnopharmacological use. Its use is recorded in the classical medicinal literature of ancient China and has also been recorded in both the European Pharmacopoeia and the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. In Asia, and particularly in China, the fruits and flower buds of Sophora japonica (known as ‘Fructus Sophorae’ and ‘Flos Sophorae Immaturus’) are used to treat conditions such as hematuria, hemorrhinia, hematemesis, hematochezia, haemorrhoids, intestinal and uterine haemorrhages, high blood pressure, headaches, pyoderma, arteriosclerosis, and dizziness. 

    According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Sophora japonica is administered orally in traditional Chinese applications. Studies on the phytochemicals and potential uses of the plant have increased in recent years, revealing more information about its constituents and their biological activities in the human body.

    Uses of Sophora Japonica

    Sophora japonica is used in a range of different ways as a therapeutic and health-boosting plant. Some of the most common ways in which the plant is used are:

    • In a herbal infusion or tea
    • As a supplement or extract
    • Applied topically to the skin
    • In culinary preparations

    The leaves, bark, or dried flower buds can be steeped in hot water to create an antioxidant-rich tea, and the flowers are used in cooking to add nutrition, antioxidants and flavour to a variety of dishes. Extracts can be applied topically to treat certain skin conditions, including inflammatory skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, or taken internally in supplement form to address a range of different health concerns.

    Health Benefits of Sophora Japonica

    One of the most notable health benefits of S. japonica extracts is their ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a natural response to infection and injury. But when it is chronically present, it can increase the risk of developing a range of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Anti-inflammatory 

    The Japanese pagoda tree naturally contains a number of anti-inflammatory plant compounds, including rutin, quercetin and kaempferol. All of these flavonoids have been shown to reduce the body’s production of inflammatory cytokines, the latter of which may drive chronic inflammation and accelerate the onset of age-related disease.

    Heart health

    The flavonoids present in Sophora japonica extracts are also beneficial for heart health. Flavonoids improve blood circulation, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and inhibit the formation of blood clots, thereby reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. 

    Immunity

    The polysaccharides present in the plant may increase the production of white blood cells, stimulating the function of the immune system and improving immunity to a range of pathogens and diseases.

    Diabetes

    There is evidence to suggest that S. japonica extracts are effective tools for the management of type II diabetes. The plant’s flavonoids have been shown to aid in the regulation of blood glucose levels and in the reduction of insulin resistance – two key functions in normalising metabolic function in people with diabetes.

    Cognitive function

    Extracts from the Japanese pagoda tree may even be beneficial for optimising cognitive function. Many of its active compounds, including quercetin, have strong anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, which reduce damage caused by chronic inflammation and oxidative stress to promote improved memory, cognitive performance, and learning ability.

    Skin

    The Asian tree can be used to treat skin conditions and promote better skin health. Compounds such as quercetin found in S. japonica exhibit some skin protective and anti-ageing effects, primarily by helping to protect the skin from UV damage and environmental pollutants. 

    The flavonoids and phytochemicals in S. japonica assist in promoting collagen production to enhance skin elasticity, improve the appearance of wrinkles and signs of ageing, and accelerate the healing of wounds.

    Use in Supplements

    Sophora japonica is most often used to produce supplemental quercetin. This flavonoid is found in a variety of different foods and plant sources, including grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits. But it is particularly concentrated in the dried buds and flowers of the Japanese pagoda tree, which is why it is widely used to produce quality quercetin supplements.

    The plant offers high concentrations of rutin, which is also produced in supplemental form and renowned for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Complete S. japonica extracts contain:

    • Isoflavones
    • Flavones
    • Tetra Glycosides
    • Alkaloids
    • Polysaccharides 
    • Amino acids
    • Rutin
    • Quercetin
    • Genistein 
    • Kaempferol 
    • Isorhamnetin

    All of these compounds work in synergy to provide users with a variety of health-promoting effects.

    Japonica extracts are considered to be safe when taken at recommended dosages. However, some side effects may occur. The most common side effects include mild allergic reactions, itching, rashes, headaches, dizziness, stomach upsets, and difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these effects after taking an S. japonica supplement, stop use immediately and seek the advice of a medical professional.

    These supplements are not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women due to a lack of safety data in these groups. They may also interact with certain medications, including anti-hypertensive drugs and blood thinners. If you take any medications, consult with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimes.

    Scientific Research on Sophora Japonica

    There is a large and growing body of research on the use of S. japonica extracts for treating many different conditions, diseases and health-related challenges.

    Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

    One study found that the flavonoids present in Sophora japonica are capable of scavenging free radicals, including superoxide anion and 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), helping to reduce oxidative stress and associated chronic inflammation. 

    Other orthogonal experiments found that the polysaccharides in S. japonica scavenged superoxide anion and hydroxyl free radicals. Researchers noted that both rutin and quercetin showed notable abilities to scavenge free radicals, although quercetin was found to offer superior protection against oxidative stress.

    Cognitive Function

    Animal studies have noted that rats with cerebral infarction given Sophora japonica extracts experienced microglial inhibition. Microglia are activated by a range of different types of brain damage, including inflammatory and ischemic damage, and cause brain oedema and neuronal impairment in high concentrations. 

    The extracts were shown to reduce levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β and inhibit microglial activation, thereby reducing the size of cerebral infarctions in the rats, inhibiting neuron death and inflammation to reduce associated brain damage.

    Cardiovascular Health

    A study conducted on rabbits found that administration of S. japonica extract reduced the animals’ heart rates and muscle contractility of the heart. The findings suggest that the plant extract limited oxygen consumption and protected cardiac function in the test subjects, although further research is needed to identify similar effects in human patients.

    Certain compounds in S. japonica, including isorhamnetin and quercetin, are also anti-hemostatic, helping to reduce platelet aggregation; a process associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Research has found that extracts of the Japanese pagoda tree increase capillary permeability and inhibit platelet aggregation to promote optimal cardiovascular function while reducing bleeding and coagulation times after an injury.

    Additionally, another study indicated that both quercetin and rutin (but primarily quercetin) protected red blood cells with both normal and elevated cholesterol content against lipid peroxidation by reactive oxygen species, helping to protect the cardiovascular system.

    Skin Health

    When keratinocytes in the skin differentiate abnormally, the skin barrier can become defective, resulting in dryness and chronic skin conditions like atopy and eczema. A 2018 study found that Sophora japonica extracts and troxerutin, one of the compounds present in these extracts, accelerated the differentiation of keratinocytes via miR-181a up-regulation. 

    The results suggest that S. japonica extracts can successfully strengthen the skin’s barrier by regulating keratinocyte differentiation and could play a role in treating conditions associated with an impaired skin barrier, such as eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

    Other trials saw researchers use a topical liniment containing matrine, a primary Sophora alkaloid, and baicalin, an anti-inflammatory flavonoid, to treat psoriasis, neurodermatitis, and eczema. The researchers reported the treatment to be ‘highly effective’, particularly for eczema. Further research is needed to confirm similar effects on larger treatment groups.

    Cancer

    There is evidence to suggest that S. japonica extracts also exert anti-cancer effects. One in vitro study on the plant’s flower buds found that they reduced the cell viability of human colorectal cancer cells while increasing apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. Researchers found that S. japonica can induce the apoptosis of cancerous colon cells by increasing the expression of activating transcription factor 3, which plays an important role in mediating the process of cancer cell apoptosis.

    A study from 2010 also noted the ability of matrine – a Sophora alkaloid found abundantly in S. japonica – to inhibit the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells, both in vivo and in vitro. Not only did matrine inhibit the cells’ proliferation, but it was also shown to induce apoptosis of the cancerous cells in mouse models. The results suggest that S. japonica could be a promising natural agent for pancreatic cancer treatment, although further research is needed.

    Another clinical study describes the use of Sophora alkaloids, including matrine and oxymatrine, for treating the side effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Matrine was reported to assist leukaemia cells in differentiating into mature, normally functioning white blood cells. The study notes that while S. japonica and its alkaloids should not be used as a replacement for cancer treatments, they can be used as adjunct therapies to reduce unwanted side effects of radiation and chemotherapies.

    Diabetes

    A study observed positive effects when administering Sophora japonica extracts on mice with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. The mice were divided into five groups and dosed either with small, medium or high doses of S. japonica flavonoids, metformin (a drug used to treat type II diabetes), or saline. Each test subject received treatment for 30 days, after which researchers performed fasting blood glucose tests and assessments of pancreatic and kidney health. 

    Compared to the saline and metformin groups, the mice dosed with small, medium, and high doses of S. japonica flavonoids had significantly less kidney and pancreatic damage. The results suggest that S. japonica extracts could help to alleviate diabetes-related kidney and pancreas injuries in human patients as well, although further studies are needed to confirm these hypotheses.

    Physical Health

    A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that Sophora japonica extracts contain at least 153 chemical compounds, including a wide range of alkaloids, polysaccharides, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, amino acids, and more. Some of these compounds have been shown to exhibit a range of activities, including antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-hyperglycemic, antitumor, antiobesity, and hemostatic effects. The researchers also noted that certain compounds effectively scavenged free radicals and exhibited anti-osteoporotic effects as well.

    While more research is needed, this study and others suggest that S. japonica extracts could play a valuable role in the treatment and management of viral and bacterial infections, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, type II diabetes, cancers, obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, the plant’s free radical-scavenging abilities may help to address the low-grade inflammation that drives the development of many age-related diseases and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, metabolic disorders, arthritis, and others.

    Conclusion

    There is ample evidence to suggest that Sophora japonica has a wide range of benefits for human health. Research shows that extracts of the Japanese pagoda tree show promise in reducing chronic inflammation and associated health conditions. This includes reducing kidney and pancreatic damage related to type II diabetes, inducing the apoptosis of cancerous cells, improving the integrity and function of the skin barrier, and improving both cardiovascular and cognitive health.

    S. japonica extracts are used to produce a range of health-supporting supplements, including quercetin, rutin, and other preparations. If you are interested in taking any supplements containing these extracts, be sure to source them from a trusted supplier like Vitality Pro – and always consult your doctor or a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement to ensure that you are choosing the best solutions for your needs.

    FAQs

    What is Sophora japonica?

    Sophora japonica is a flowering tree that originates from China. It is also known as the Japanese pagoda tree or the Chinese scholar tree and offers a range of health benefits.

    What is Sophora japonica used for?

    Japonica extracts have shown promise in reducing inflammation, improving skin barrier function, reducing kidney and pancreatic damage in patients with diabetes, and protecting the brain and cardiovascular system.

    How can I take Sophora japonica extracts?

    The best way to benefit from S. japonica extracts is to take a high quality supplement. Remember to consult with your doctor before starting any new supplements, especially if you have any chronic health conditions or are taking any medications.

    What are the health benefits of quercetin?

    Quercetin supports cardiovascular health, may reduce the risk of cancer, improves cognitive function, limits chronic inflammation, boosts immune system function, and may also reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies.

    What are the health benefits of rutin?

    Rutin improves blood circulation, reduces the formation of blood clots, lowers cholesterol levels, and reduces pain and inflammation.

    Glossary of Terms

    Apoptosis: The normal, programmed death of cells as part of an organism’s development.

    Arteriosclerosis: The accumulation of cholesterol, fats, and other compounds on the walls of the arteries which block blood flow.

    Ethnopharmacology: The study of substances and compounds used medicinally by cultures around the world.

    Flavonoids: A group of health-promoting biological pigments found in a wide range of plants. 

    Hematemesis: A term to describe the condition of vomiting blood.

    Hematochezia: The passing of blood with stools.

    Hematuria: The passing of blood in the urine.

    Hemorrhinia: Bleeding from the nose.

    Hemostasis: A term used to describe the act of stopping bleeding.

    Keratinocytes: Epidermal skin cells which produce keratin.

    Microglia: Cells found in the brain and spinal cord which act as scavengers in the central nervous system. 

    Neurodermatitis: An itchy skin condition also known as lichen simplex chronicus.

    Panicle: A loose, branched cluster of flowers.

    Polysaccharide: Any carbohydrate which consists of many bonded sugar molecules.