The 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.