Baicalein is a powerful flavone that has been used in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. Recently, this chemical has been investigated for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, neuro-protective, anti-microbial properties and its protective role in vascular health. In most of these modern research studies, baicalein is also referred to as 5,6,7-Trihydroxyflavone, its most common chemical name.
Flavones are a yellow plant extract that contain vitamin P. Baicalein is extracted from the plant Chinese skullcap, or Scutellaria baicalensis, and Indian trumpet flower, or Oroxylum indicum. Other flavones, such as baicalin, wogonin and apigenin, are also often distilled from these plants. Baicalein, however, appears to be one of the most powerful and widely studied flavones.
Its anti-inflammatory actions are the result of its ability to block lipoxygenases, enzymes critical in prostaglandins formation. Prostaglandins are local acting biochemicals that have many roles, some of which include initiating inflammation pathways and regulation of water in the body. As a result, this plant extract is often used to reduce the swelling associated with colitis, asthma, arthritis, hepatitis, and gingivitis.
This plant extract has also been tested as a cancer treatment, especially to treat liver cancer and leukemia. In liver cancer cells, this chemical inhibits topoisomerase II, an enzyme critical in separating the strands of deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) during replication or copying. This arrests the replication of the liver cancer cells. In leukemia studies, baicalein has been found to activate caspase 3, which initiates apoptosis of the cancer cells, or starts the genetic machinery that controls programed cell death.
It has also been found that baicalein affords a neuro-protective effect in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and cerebral ischemia. This neuro-protection comes from the ability of this chemical to neutralize free radicals inside cells. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage cells.
Some early research has shown that this flavone may have some important anti-microbial properties. When taken with certain antibiotics used to combat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), baicalein augmented the action of the antibiotic. This practice reduces the minimal inhibitory concentration of the antibiotic, or lowers the concentration of antibiotic needed to suppress the bacterial growth.
Finally, 5,6,7-Trihydroxyflavone has the ability to improve vascular health. The exact mechanism for this action is unknown. This plant extract may prevent the changing of fibrinogen into fibrin, which can reduce the risk of deadly blood clots.
Baicalein, when extracted uncontaminated from Chinese skullcap and Indian trumpet flower and taken at the appropriate dose, is fairly safe. The danger of this chemical comes when germander, a plant that looks almost identical to Chinese skullcap, is mistakenly harvested with Chinese skullcap. Germander is a plant that can cause hepatitis, and 5,6,7-Trihydroxyflavone contaminated with germander has been known to cause this liver disease.