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Chinese Herbs for Psoriasis

A Scientific Look at the Use of Chinese Herbs for Psoriasis

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Updated June 19, 2014

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), including the use of Chinese herbs for psoriasis, is considered an alternative treatment in the West. But for a billion or more Chinese, it's a mainstream treatment option.

Traditional Therapies: Does Modern Science Deem Them Useful?

Traditional Chinese medicine relies heavily on herbal treatments as medications, including the use of Chinese herbs for psoriasis. Some herbal treatments have been studied in clinical and laboratory trials and the effects documented. Others have been linked to toxicities, especially liver toxicity.

An Herb That Can Stop Skin Cell Growth?

On at least a theoretical basis, Radix Rubiae -- through its ability to prevent the growth of skin cells -- may be useful in psoriasis. Scientists discovered the anti-proliferative activity of this herb while screening over 60 traditional anti-psoriatic Chinese herbs in the laboratory.

An Herbal Bath as a Treatment?

Many studies of TCM are published in Chinese medical literature. As such, access to this data for those who cannot read Chinese is limited. One more recent study published in Chinese had an English abstract with an overview of the methods and results. Over 100 psoriasis patients were studied. All subjects were treated with narrow-band UVB phototherapy, but in half the light treatment was preceded by a bath in an herbal concoction called Yuyin Recipe.

During the 8-week trial, those treated with the herbal bath had a greater reduction in their PASI scores, experienced fewer side effects, and needed a lower dose of ultraviolet light to achieve clearing of their psoriasis.

An abstract is just a snapshot of what's presented in a full study, so it offers only limited insight into a clinical trial such as this. Many facts not mentioned could be buried in the original Chinese language text.

What Does This Mean for You?

I'm going to venture a guess that you're not an expert in the use of Chinese herbs. I'll also bet that your corner store's herb section is limited to mint, thyme and the like. So, it would not be simple to try and replicate the above trial for personal use. An expert in TCM who is familiar with the specific Yuyin Recipe and able to review the original article for exactly how it was used would be needed.

Even if you can get your hands on Chinese herbs, you should not experiment with their use -- especially in conjunction with any kind of ultraviolet light therapy. Many herbs are known to cause increased sensitivity to sunlight, and their use may result in unexpected burning with natural or artificial sunlight exposure.

"Natural" does not imply safe; several patients taking Chinese herbs have suffered liver toxicity, including at least one case of fatal liver damage. In addition, Chinese herbs, like most traditional medicines, are not as strictly regulated by the FDA as modern (allopathic) drugs are.

There indeed may be effective compounds in the complex herbal concoctions that make up TCM recipes. But figuring out what compounds may be having the positive affect, and whether or not these results are solid enough to be seen time and time again, requires more stringently-controlled and large studies that -- to date -- just don't exist.

Sources:

Cui BN, Sun YX, Liu WL. (Clinical efficacy of narrow band ultraviolet light bin combined with yuyin recipe in treating psoriasis vulgaris) article in Chinese. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 2008;28:355-7

Kane JA. Hepatitis induced by traditional Chinese herbs; possible toxic components. Gut 1995;36:146-7.

Tse WP et al. Induction of apoptosis underlies the Radix Rubiae-mediated anti-proliferative action on human epidermal keratinocytes: implications for psoriasis treatment. Int J Mol Med 2007;20:663-72

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