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Science Shows Chinese Medicine Could Help Treat Autoimmune Disorder

Science Shows Chinese Medicine Could Help Treat Autoimmune Disorder

Ancient Chinese herbal remedy helps treat autoimmune disorder…

New research into a 2,000-year-old Chinese herbal remedy derived from the roots of the blue evergreen hydrangea, has shown that the medicine could be used to help treat autoimmune disorders.

Also known as Chang Shan, the herb weakens the defective immune response related with many autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis.

Used in China for centuries to help reduce fever and fight malaria, the herb’s active ingredient, febrifugine, is considered too toxic for use by Western standards, so the U.S. Army scientists created a derivative called halofuginone (HF), but it was abandoned when research failed to uncover how it actually worked.

chinese herbal medicine to treat autoimmune disorders 550x412 Science Shows Chinese Medicine Could Help Treat Autoimmune Disorder

Cinese Herb Chang Shan Sown To Help Treat Autoimmune Disorder

Image Credit: Mike, 2007.

In 2004 scientists managed to pinpoint the cells targeted by halofuginone, cells known as Th17. And in 2009, Harvard Medical School researchers Mark S. Sundrud, PhD, Anjana Rao, PhD, and their colleagues showed that halofuginone does indeed inhibit Th17 cells.

HF works by blocking the development of a harmful type of immune cell called Th17. Malcolm Whitman, PhD, professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, says in a news release:

“HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether.”

Previous studies in mice have shown that halofuginone protects against harmful Th17 cells without affecting other beneficial immune cells.

The new study has shed light on how this process works – the herbal extract appears to trigger a series of events critical to immune regulation, by letting cells know when they need to conserve resources.

Whitman likened the situation to how we conserve our energy during a power outage, only using power when absolutely necessary.

By triggering this response, researchers say halofuginone may also help them understand how the pathway affects autoimmune disorders and lead to better treatments.

Researcher Tracy Keller, an instructor in Whitman’s lab, says in the release:

“This study is an exciting example of how solving the molecular mechanism of traditional herbal medicine can lead both to new insights into physiological regulation and to novel approaches to the treatment of disease.”

The study was published in the Nature Chemical Biology journal.


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  1. Jennifer Warner: Chinese Herb Targets Immune System. WebMD, 02/12/2012.
  2. Daniel J. DeNoon: Study Shows Herb From Hydrangea Root Targets Specific Immune Responses. WebMD, 06/04/2009.

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