If you read my blog regularly, you will know that imbalances are the cause of disease in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. For autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, the concept of imbalances really makes sense. The immune system is overactive and the body attacks itself. In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the three most common imbalances that cause the psoriasis are blood heat, blood dryness, and blood stagnation.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture doctors have long said that by removing these imbalances, the acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a natural treatment that acts like hitting the reset switch, in this case, resetting the immune system. I think this is very accurate description for immunologic diseases.
My training during 2009-2010 at Mount Sinai was in immunology. We were looking at herbs and their immunoregulatory properties on inflammatory diseases, but also how the herbs regulated inflammatory processes throughout the whole body. One of the most powerful aspects of the research was to show that Chinese herbs to have strong long lasting immunoregulatory properties which act like a reset key.
The Immunologic Effects of Herbs for Psoriasis
In a review of herbs used for psoriasis explored the immunologic effects of commonly used herbs for psoriasis. Chinese herbs are complex natural products. Rather than being a single chemical, like most medications, they are combinations of naturally occurring substances. Formulas are even more complex because they can have 10 or more herbs.
Three of the most powerful and commonly used herbs for psoriasis are Sheng di huang (Rehmania glutinosa), Dan shen (Salvia miltiorriza), and Zi cao (lithospermum erythrohizon).
Sheng di huang is used to cool the blood and clear heat. It is effective for many types of psoriasis, including psoriasis from blood heat and blood dryness. In the laboratory, sheng di has shown to inhibit histamine release from mast cells and regulate the cytokines TNF-α and IL-1 in astrocytes.
Dan shen is good for blood stagnation and heat type psoriasis. Dan shen was shown to reduce edema, inhibit the secretion of IFN-γ and IL-12, and inhibited the degranulation of mast cells.
Zi cao very strongly cools the blood and is often used with psoriasis. This in combination with other herbs showed a complete suppression of IL-α and TNF-α, which are factors in psoriasis. These anti-inflammatory effects may have a beneficial effect for psoriasis.
Chinese Herbal Formulas
Some of the herbs may not directly correct the immune system, but rather work synergistically with other herbs in the formula to enhance their action, or in some cases, protect from side effects. You can see how complicated the situation is and why it is important to be well trained in Chinese herbal medicine.
Licorice root, or gan cao (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), is a Chinese herb close to my heart. Much of my research at Mt Sinai focused on gan cao. It is widely used in Chinese medicine for psoriasis by boosting qi and harmonizing the effects of other herbs. It has long been know for immunoregulatory abilities. Studies are now showing that it can also reduce possible toxicity and helped to repair damaged liver cells. This is the harmonizing effect Chinese medicine doctors have been talking about for centuries.
Tse, T. W. Use of common Chinese herbs in the treatment of psoriasis. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 28: 5. 469-475. 2003