Pangolin (Chuan Shan Jia)

Manis pentadactylaThe first thing to stress is that Chinese Pangolin, or Chuan Shan Jia in Pinyin, is a significant part of some certain Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Just like any other animal parts and products, it was and is still used in the production of some formulas. This is an objective reality. As a TCM practitioner, it is impossible and unnecessary to deliberately evade that fact. Fortunately, thanks of the advocacy for animals and herbal substitutes found, the amount of pangolin scales has been cut gradually over the past few decades. And here we just faithfully record the medical asset from our forefather and the following knowledge isn’t meant to offend, but to inherit.

What is Chinese Pangolin?

Also known as Manis pentadactyla, just as its Chinese name of Chuan Shan Jia implied, it refers to that mammal that is covered with armor-like brown overlapping horny scales and has the ability to dig hole. And it usually feeds on termites and ants. For that reason, it often goes by the name of scaly anteaters. However, looked from the TCM angle, it means only the medicinal part of the pangolin scales, namely squama manitis.

In addition to head, abdomen, and inner side of limbs, the pangolin’s scales have hard, sparse hair too. This scaly pangolin is about 1 meter in length, with small conical head, long snout without teeth, small round eyes, short sturdy limbs, and five toes with strong claws. The male ground pangolin has depression in the rear of the anus and testicles are not exposed. This cute animal is so shy and timid that it loves straying in its burrow, except for finding food and mating. The pangolin habitats are usually moist, including the grass in the foothills or shrubs in hilly place.

Chemical composition of pangolin scales

The pangolin scales contain stearic acid, cholesterol, N-butyl tricosylamide, cyclo (L-seryl-L-tyrosyl), cyclo (D-seryl-L-tyrosyl), and other 18 kinds of microelements like zinc, sodium, titanium, calcium, lead, silicon, phosphorus, iron, manganese, chromium, magnesium, nickel, copper, barium, boron, aluminum, molybdenum, and tin. The aqueous solution includes 16 types of free amino acids, such as aspartic acid, threonine, serine, glutamic acid, glycine, alanine, cysteine, valine, methionine, isoleucine, leucine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, lysine, arginine, and proline. Besides, it also contains volatile oil, water soluble alkaloids, and so on.

Pangolin scales health benefits

As mentioned earlier, the animal pangolin is full of treasures and known for its high medicinal value. So, what is the exact role that pangolin scales are playing?

Modern pharmacological actions

1. Effect of reducing blood viscosity. The experimental results showed that the decoction can significantly extend the clotting time and reduce blood clotting in rats;

2. Anti-inflammatory effect. Experimental results showed that the water extract and alcohol extract have significant anti-inflammatory effects on mice’s ear inflammation induced by croton oil (P <0.01, P <0.05). 3. Effects on mice normobaric hypoxia tolerance. The cyclic dipeptide Ⅵ and Ⅶ contained can increase the normobaric hypoxia tolerance of mice.

Typical pangolin related Chinese herbal formulas

TCM believes that this herb is salty and slightly cold in nature. It covers two meridians like liver and stomach. Its basic functions are to promote blood flow to resolve masses, stimulate the menstrual flow to promote lactation, reduce swellings and discharge pus, and remove the wind for dredging collaterals. Its main indications and uses are amenorrhea due to blood stasis, abdominal mass, pain in rheumatoid arthritis, breast milk stoppage, sores and furuncle, scrofula, cramps in the hands and feet, and numbness in the extremities. Usual dosage is from 5 to 9 grams. And generally it is processed with supplementary materials before the use.

Chuan Shan Jia San

Chuan Shan Jia San comes in a few different versions. Here are the two popular ones for your reference.

The formula from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief) is mainly used to treat carbuncle and deep-rooted carbuncle, promote pustulation of ulcer, discharge pus, and relieve pain by subsiding swelling. Main herbs include Chuan Shan Jia (Squama Manitis), Feng Fang (Hornets’ Nest), She Tui (Periostracum Serpentis), and so on.

Another popular one is from Yang Ke Yi Bian (Compilation of Remaining Works for Sore and Ulcer). It is exclusively designed for membranous pharyngitis. The herbal ingredients include Chuang Shan Jia (pangolin scales), Bai Shuang Mei (Hoar-frost Plum), and Xiong Huang (Realgar), and Ku Fan (Alumen Preparatum).

Chen Tong Gao

Chen Tong Gao comes from San Yin Fang (Three Causes Formulas). This formula treats a lack of sensation or movement in one or both hands or feet in stroke. The herbs include Chuan Shan Jia (Chinese pangolin scale), Hong Hai Ge (Red Sea Clams), and Chuan Wu (Radix Aconiti Carmichaeli).

Potential pangolin side effects and contraindications

Pangolin scales contain cholesterol, stearic acid, and fatty acid amide compounds. Improper use of them can cause liver damage. Main side effects include bloating, loss of appetite, abnormal liver function, jaundice, liver damage, and some allergy symptoms such as rash, swollen face, and so on.

From the point of view of TCM, Chuan Shan Jia is poisonous and should not be used in overdose. What’s more, this herb should be forbidden in cases of deficiency of both Qi and blood, bursted boils, and pregnant women.

29 thoughts on “Pangolin (Chuan Shan Jia)

  1. Jennifer Harrison

    I had no idea what this herb was when my Chinese herbalists prepared it for me a few days ago. I was having stomach problems due to mild food poisoning a few weeks before;bloating, general discomfort and a little nausea. After two small doses I felt about 90% better, so I called the Chinese doctor to see what it actually was. The bit of research I have done to find out what on earth I had taken brought me to this site. I am now, admittedly, a bit horrified to find out the truth, but I will say that the medicinal values are real and extremely effective. However, I would probably seek an alternative next time. The doctor I used is 8th generation Chinese medicine practitioner, very old school and very Chinese, so I don’t blame her. It worked!

    1. admin Post author

      Hi, Jennifer Harrison! Welcome to Thanks for your story about TCM. Just as you have said, Pangolin (Chuan Shan Jia) is a good medicine. For a variety of reasons it is phasing out from Chinese medicine. That is sort of mixed feeling to a TCM practitioner like me. Anyway, glad to hear this herb worked and this post helps.

      1. Chong Kiat

        Glad to know that a Stoneman is posting utter nonsense in the internet and a lady still believe 8 generations of utter nonsense for health.

    2. Bta

      Jennifer, next time, just eat your nails, the same material as Pangolin scales. And Pangolin is not a herb either, it is an animal. A little education makes you appear a lot smarter than a simpleton. You are contributing to large-scale animal extinction, by buying such material. Your indigestion probably would have gone away on it’s own, without eating keratin. You as a paying customer are directly responsible for animal extinctions around the world, and are helping Chinese poachers breaking the law and steal and poach world treasures. Shame on you for your stupidity.

    3. Nick

      After 2 small doses and…


      The body does heal itself. It will have to heal itself if the pangolin disappears from the earth

  2. Bill

    Jennifer: Pangolin scales are keratin. Same as your hair and fingernails. It has no effect beyond that of a placebo and the only other consequence of consuming it is contributing to the eradication of a protected and endangered species. Please stop doing that.

  3. Peter

    All eight species of pangolin (4 species in Africa and 4 species in Asia)are at risk of becoming extinct—precisely because there is a rampant illegal trade in products derived from them, including their scales. Each of the species are listes as Endangered or Critically Endangered. I note illegal “trade” as it has been illegal to trade in Pangolin or pangolin parts since 2000 under CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – a treaty signed by 181 countries including China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, India and other pangolin range countries as well as the US

  4. Bta

    Chinese medicine is bullshit and fake, Must be banned world wide for being responsible for many wild life being on the brink of extinction, or tortured like moon bears. Idiotic Chinese kill and torture animals, and then run to modern day hospitals for real medicine. Vile people, and stupid vile superstition for medicine. Chinese have to start acting like civilised people, or will be hated internationally for stupid vile actions the commit.

    1. Wcs

      True. Why do Asians believe this crap. Eating dogs and Monkey brains and Pangolin scales/meat. Get civilized please.

    2. Cup Cake Kid

      Bear bile is proven by science to have medicinal effects.

      If you actually want to change people’s minds then you need to work on your argument. As it stands your tone is disrespectful even if you mean well. You also open yourself up by being rather ignorant as some have been proven by science. So dismissing it as superstition is not that wise.

  5. RealityCheck

    Its unfortunate that we have to listen to the uneducated trolls that seem to like spewing their version of reality. Attention trolls: If you read the posts properly you will see that the author of the article is saying that, although he believes its very effective he isn’t happy with the use of Pangolin (Chuan Shan Jia), he has mixed feelings but that he accepts its phasing out of use. The lady, Jennifer, says she didn’t know what was in the herbs she purchased until later…so the other intellectually inert trolls that are accusing this woman of consciously destroying the planet earth are just showing your absolute ignorance and your limited comprehension skills. I don’t like the idea of using endangered species in Chinese medicine either but I could deliver a more cognitive and less abusive argument than what the trolls on this page have done…here is a clue guys, if you are trying to change peoples minds on a subject then don’t abuse and ridicule them.

    1. Potter

      I like your reply. Moreover most of these trolls only talk like they are animal conservationists but hardly even lift a finger to help except but just talk. Shame on them.

  6. Lin Hong


    I need your advice. I’m suffering from terrible period pain. I take all sorts of painkillers but they never get rid of the pain totally. I’ve read that Chuan Shan Jia products might help with period pain and menstruation generally. Will you please tell me how to purchase such products?

    Thanks very much for your help!

    Lin Hong

    1. nunya

      The Scales of a pangolin are in fact composed of the same material of our hair and nails, so there is no medicinal value. If you purchase this “herb” you are basically supporting the Pangolin’s extinction.

    2. Trine

      So you are thinking of helping them eradicate endangered species?
      Just go to a doctor for help or endure the pain, it´s totally normal to have menstrual pain…..

  7. Noah

    Promoting this unscientific bullshit legitimizes the use of Chinese medicine and promotes the further endangerment of the animals it uses. Please take this down.

  8. Toni the Chinese

    Chinese medicine is just as useless as “”most” Western medicines. Chinese medicine works on basis of power of suggestion and nothing has been proven.

  9. Rachel (Lai Ki Wong)

    Lin Hong, the situation with pangolins is serious. Even mother and babies are taken, frightened, from the wild, and treated cruelly before death. Please don’t support this.

  10. Dawn

    Please stop this cruel and barbaric practice. The pain and suffering these animals endure for the simple practice of voodoo medicine in this day and age is unconscionable.

  11. Melanie

    Wow. A lot of very uneducated people on these threads. Keratin was minor component of all those listed. An eco-ethical practitioner finds lots of substitutes. In this case, using mineral rich herbs, consider, a reasonable substitute for keratin…maybe a collagen…and for the others. Get an education.

  12. Dan

    Your call for phasing out the use of Pangolin is followed by several examples of their use. Some of the people in this thread talk about the lack of respect shown by people who are angered by the use of this endangered animal. People who use animals in this way are deserving of no respect for they, by their actions, have lost all face in a civilized society. What more can you say about a culture that still eats dog….and occasionally tortures them to make them taste better.
    You are cordially invited to join the twenty first century….for the East is doing many wonderful things at this time in history. You excel in so many areas like art, innovation, gourmet cooking, philosophy….why not get on board with empathy, conservation and compassion. Am I trying to shame you into not using any more Pangolin? Oh yeah.

  13. Richard

    Chinese medicine is certanly a lot more than superstitious bullshit. I know doctors who have spent 60 or 70 years studying the subject 12 hours a day. It is a subtle and often profoundly effective system devoted to bringing the body’s systems into balance. It saved my life.
    That said, there is no reason i should place my life ahead of the survival of a whole species. Pangolin products, and many other medicines made from endangered species of plants and animals, must be taken off the market. Hopefully substitutes can be found which produce similar results. If not, tough shit. We are not more important than any other species.


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