Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Seahorses are highly regarded and highly acclaimed in Chinese philosophy. Their value is spread from generation to generation via folklore.

More than 20 million seahorses are caught from the wild each year (some estimate 60 million) to supply the traditional Chinese medicine market. People in Asia have been using seahorses for thousands of years as a cure for a variety of ailments. According to Project Seahorse, over 70 countries are involved in the wild seahorse trade. They are harvested throughout the year, especially from August to September. Major sources historically included the Philippines, Indonesia and India but recent changes of laws in many countries, due to the listing of seahorses as endangered under the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, (CITES), has restricted the catch. This is leading to an increase in value and potentially greater smuggling activity. Wild populations of seahorses used in traditional medicine are under threat due to the extremely high demand.

Common species used include H. kelloggi (Kellogg’s seahorse), H. histrix (thorny seahorse), H. kuda (yellow seahorse), H. trimacullatus (low-crowned seahorse). The entire body is normally used in a dry form. Chinese medicine manuals refer to it as being "sweet in taste, warm in nature, and enters the kidney and liver channels".

Clinical uses: Tonifies the kidneys and fortifies the Yang; used for impotence, urinary incontinence, wheezing and old age debilitation. It enlivens the blood, aiding circulation: used for bleeding and pain from congealed blood and swelling due to sores and boils.

Combined with other foods such as certain fruits or lean pork, seahorses are used for treating frequent urination at night and weak constitutions in children. Impotence is often treated with seahorses steeped in rice wine.

Contraindications: should be avoided during pregnancy. It is not recommended for people with weak digestive conditions or with colds.

Endocrine effects: Alcohol extractions of Kellogg’s seahorse prolonged the oestrus period and increased the weight of the uterus in normal female mice. It also gave emasculated mice an oestrus period.

Over the centuries and still today, it is regarded for its ‘powerful masculine’ stimulant qualities.

Seahorse Australia has the capacity to produce many thousands of seahorses. While the market continues to access wild stocks at relatively low prices, with suitable marketing the healthy condition and uniqueness of farmed seahorses may soon allow them to become an attractive alternative. Seahorse Australia is well positioned to breed large numbers of quality seahorses for the traditional Chinese medicine market should the market price increase sufficiently. This will ultimately help take the pressure away from wild seahorse populations around the world.

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