Chinese Herb Finds Use In West

A traditional Chinese medicinal herb has been shown to be effective for several applications in Western medical practice. Used for centuries to treat malaria, 常山 (chang shan), derived from the blue evergreen hydrangea, is one of the most important herbs in Eastern medicine. Now new research is looking at its mechanism and effects.

Researchers in Boston discovered that a chemical derived from the roots, halofuginone, calms an overactive immune response without totally deadening it. That means that doctors can use it treatment against autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. In addition, the substance prevents inflammation and blocks the growth of malaria parasites.

“This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders,” said researcher Malcolm Whitman.

It might also be helpful before surgery. Halofuginone has similar effects on the body as mild nutrient deprivation. In another recent study, doctors found semi-starvation before surgery prevented post-surgical complications in rats. If this holds true in humans as well, halofuginone might be useful for that purpose.

Halofuginone is already produced commercially, for use in veterinary medicine as an anti-parasitic medication. It is being administered to humans on an experimental basis.

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