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Sunday, 10 February, 2002, 00:30 GMT
Insects boost immune system
Ant
By Georgina Kenyon

Forget herbal remedies - the insect is set to take on modern medicine.

Scientific research in China has shown that a particular species of Chinese ant, the Polyrhachis Vicina, increases longevity in rats.

For centuries, this ant has been prized by Chinese royalty and used in Tibet as a drink tonic to boost the immune system and relieve arthritis in people.


This species of ant seems to act in a similar way on the immune system as ginseng and Vitamin E

Dr John Wilkinson
Dr John Wilkinson, senior lecturer in Pharmacognosy at Middlesex University, is studying the properties of these insects.

He said: "These ants contain a lot of zinc and zinc has been identified for some time as an immune stimulant and an antioxidant.

"This species of ant seems to act in a similar way on the immune system as ginseng and Vitamin E.

"This is a very exciting time in medicine. Insects have different compounds in them to plants."

He added: "Now it is up to researchers to identify the novel compounds in insects and how they benefit health.

"Insects are potentially a vast new area of medicinal research."

Bug drugs

Or, in alternative medicine parlance, it can be said that 'bug drugs' are on the rise in modern medicine.


"The vast history of the efficacy of the Chinese ant as a tonic is well documented in China

Collette Fellows Smith
Although the traditional eating of insects is usually associated with continents such as Africa, Asia and Australia, Dr Wilkinson says ant drinks have been used more recently in California as a hallucinogen and were actually used in Britain in the Middle Ages as a tonic for general ailments.

The Chinese ant is drunk mainly among the elderly in China. It is made into wine and Chinese beer and also eaten with meals.

However, the drinking of such drinks has returned to our shores, as one UK drink company has recently acquired a taste for the potential benefits of the Chinese ant.

The InterContinental Brands (ICB) company in North Yorkshire is manufacturing and selling a soft drink called Ant which acts as a stimulant and is drunk as an alternative to caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea or Red Bull.

ICB spokesperson Collette Fellows Smith said: "The vast history of the efficacy of the Chinese ant as a tonic is well documented in China. People here are beginning to understand its benefits."

The drink, Ant, is a tonic dose, not a drug and was registered with the Standards for Trading in December 2000 and released onto the market in September last year.

See also:

02 Nov 00 | Health
How bugs could fight bugs
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