Oldenlandia diffusa

Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Oldenlandia diffusa (a.k.a. Hedyotis diffusa)
Common Name

Bai Hua She She Cao, Herba Oldenlandiae (dried/powder form of Oldenlandia diffusa), Snake-Needle Grass

Clinical Summary

Oldenlandia diffusa, an herb prevalent in East Asia and Southern China, is used in traditional Chinese medicine to clear “heat” and to eliminate “toxins”. It is used in combination with other herbs for the treatment of hepatitis, snake bite (1), tumors of the liver, lung, stomach (1), and rectum (2).

Studies conducted in vitro and in animals suggest that O. diffusa possesses anticancer and chemopreventive properties (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Oleanolic and Ursolic acids, compounds isolated from O. diffusa, demonstrated cytotoxic activity (7) (8) (11) (12). Ursolic acid also showed anti-inflammatory effects in mice with rheumatoid arthritis (9).
Human data are lacking.

Purported Uses
  • Hepatitis
  • Cancer treatment
  • Snake bite
  • Arthritis
  • High Cholesterol
Constituents
  • Triterpenoids: Urosolic acid, Oleanolic acid
  • Asperuloside (IG1), E-6-O-p-coumaroyl scandoside methyl ester (IG2), E-6-O-p-coumaroyl scandoside methyl ester-10-methyl ether (IG3)
    (7) (8)
Mechanism of Action

Studies conducted in vitro and in animals have shown that O. diffusa exerts antitumor effects via apoptosis (3), dose-dependent increase of oxidative burst (2), caspase-dependent apoptosis (4) (8) and apoptosis in a cell-cycle independent fashion possibly through the induction of genotoxic damage (6). Its immuno-modulating effects are via stimulation of the immune system to kill or engulf tumor cells (5).
The anti-inflammatory activity of Oldenlandia was shown to be due to inhibition of the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-6 and prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)) in mouse peritoneal macrophages (13).

Warnings

Quality control issues have been reported. Two similar species — Corymbosa LAM and Oldenlandia tenelliflora BL — are commonly used as substitutes for Herba Oldenlandiae (the powdered form of O. diffusa) (10).

References
  1. Liang Z, He M, Fong W, Jiang Z, Zhao Z. A comparable, chemical and pharmacological analysis of the traditional Chinese medicinal herbs Oldenlandia diffusa and O. corymbosa and a new valuation of their biological potential. Phytomedicine. Apr 2008;15(4):259-267.
  2. Wong BY, Lau BH, Jia TY, Wan CP. Oldenlandia diffusa and Scutellaria barbata augment macrophage oxidative burst and inhibit tumor growth. Cancer Biother Radiopharm. Feb 1996;11(1):51-56.
  3. Gupta S, Zhang D, Yi J, Shao J. Anticancer activities of Oldenlandia diffusa. J Herb Pharmacother. 2004;4(1):21-33.
  4. Yadav SK, Lee SC. Evidence for Oldenlandia diffusa-evoked cancer cell apoptosis through superoxide burst and caspase activation. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. Sep 2006;4(5):485-489.
  5. Shan BE, Zhang JY, Du XN. [Immunomodulatory activity and anti-tumor activity of Oldenlandia diffusa in vitro]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. May 2001;21(5):370-374.
  6. Willimott S, Barker J, Jones LA, Opara EI.Apoptotic effect of Oldenlandia diffusa on the leukaemic cell line HL60 and human lymphocytes. J Ethnopharmacol. Dec 3 2007;114(3):290-299.
  7. Wu PK, Chi Shing Tai W, Liang ZT, Zhao ZZ, Hsiao WL. Oleanolic acid isolated from Oldenlandia diffusa exhibits a unique growth inhibitory effect against ras-transformed fibroblasts. Life Sci. Jul 17 2009;85(3-4):113-121.
  8. Yang L, Liu X, Lu Z, et al. Ursolic acid induces doxorubicin-resistant HepG2 cell death via the release of apoptosis-inducing factor. Cancer Lett. 2010;298(1):128-138.
  9. Kang SY, Yoon SY, Roh DH, et al. The anti-arthritic effect of ursolic acid on zymosan-induced acute inflammation and adjuvant-induced chronic arthritis models. J Pharm Pharmacol. Oct 2008;60(10):1347-1354.
  10. Liang ZT, Jiang ZH, Leung KS, Peng Y, Zhao ZZ. Distinguishing the medicinal herb Oldenlandia diffusa from similar species of the same genus using fluorescence microscopy. Microsc Res Tech. Apr 2006;69(4):277-282.
  11. Gu G, Barone I, Gelsomino L, Giordano C, et al. Oldenlandia diffusa extracts exert antiproliferative and apoptotic effects on human breast cancer cells through ERα/Sp1-mediated p53 activation. J Cell Physiol. 2012 Oct;227(10):3363-72.
  12. Song YH, Jeong SJ, Kwon HY, et al. Ursolic acid from Oldenlandia diffusa induces apoptosis via activation of caspases and phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta in SK-OV-3 ovarian cancer cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2012;35(7):1022-8.
  13. Kim SJ, Chung WS, Kim SS, Ko SG, Um JY.Antiinflammatory effect of Oldenlandia diffusa and its constituent, hentriacontane, through suppression of caspase-1 activation in mouse peritoneal macrophages. Phytother Res. 2011 Oct;25(10):1537-46.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Oldenlandia diffusa showed anticancer effects in lab studies. Human data are lacking.

Oldenlandia diffusa is an herb found in East Asia and Southern China. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of liver diseases, snake bite and tumors. Laboratory studies suggest that this herb may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and kill them by causing apoptosis (programmed cell death), and by stimulating the immune system to destroy or engulf tumor cells. Studies show that certain chemicals found in the herb help lower cholesterol in mice and have anti-inflammatory effects in mice with rheumatoid arthritis.
More research is necessary to confirm whether this herb can be used safely and effectively for any condition in humans.

Purported Uses
  • Hepatitis
    There are no data to support this claim.
  • Cancer
    Several lab and animal studies have shown that Oldenlandia diffusa has anticancer effects. Human data are lacking.
  • Snake bite
    Although traditionally used to treat snake bite, there are no studies to back this claim.
  • Arthritis
    A study in mice showed that a component of O. diffusa had anti-inflammatory effects and it did not induce gastric problems compared to mice treated with ibuprofen (a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug).
  • High Cholesterol
    Three compounds isolated from O. diffusa were shown to lower cholesterol levels in mice.
Patient Warnings

Poor quality control has been reported with products containing of O. diffusa. Two similar species — Corymbosa LAM and Oldenlandia tenelliflora BL — are commonly used as substitutes for Herba Oldenlandiae (the powdered form of O. diffusa).

E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.