Does this common plant hold the cure for autoimmune disorders?

March 27, 2012
Volume 09    |   Issue 13

Treating an autoimmune disease is tricky. You have to stop the errant immune cells from attacking your body without shutting down your entire immune system. Some doctors realize this and just prescribe steroids to fight the inflammation. Others prescribe immunosuppressive drugs that can severely inhibit your immune system and cause serious side effects. But the Chinese have a better treatment that doesn’t cause any side effects, and it effectively stops the errant cells.

For nearly 2,000 years, Chinese herbalists have treated malaria with Chang Shan. This root extract comes from a type of hydrangea that’s native to Tibet and Nepal. This plant is very similar to the one here in the U.S. that produces the spectacular blue-ball flowers. Now researchers are finding that this extract can treat autoimmune disorders as well as malaria.

One recent study looked at a specific compound within the extract. Halofuginone is the bioactive ingredient in Chang Shan. In the study, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine found the molecular secret that gives this herbal extract its power.

According to the lead author of the study, “Halofuginone prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether” by blocking the development of a harmful class of immune cells. Researchers have found that these cells, which go by the name Th17, are common in autoimmune disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. So the extract's ability to block these cells’ development can stop the progression of the autoimmune disease.

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This study didn’t look at the extract’s ability to fight autoimmune disease. These researchers simply wanted to find out why it works. Previous research has shown that halofuginone can fight scleroderma (a tightening of the skin), multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.

The great news is that halofuginone stops the harmful Th17 immune cells without adversely affecting other beneficial immune cells. That means you can use this extract to treat your autoimmune disorder without becoming more susceptible to colds, flu bugs, and other potentially deadly illnesses.

Halofuginone is available only by prescription. However, I’m not a fan of the drug. It can cause nausea, blood thinning, and fatigue at higher doses. So if you do use it, start with smaller doses and work your way up. Your doctor will need to keep an eye on you while you take it.

The herb is available as an extract, but it’s very hard to find. The only source I’ve found — — had a huge number of orders when this study came out. They sold out quickly and have not replenished their inventory yet. They are taking orders now for when they do have the product back in stock.

Another option is to try hydrangea root extract. It’s not the same as halofuginone, but it does show promise in treating autoimmune disorders without side effects. You can find hydrangea root extract online and in most health food stores.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Tracy L Keller, Davide Zocco, Mark S Sundrud, Margaret Hendrick, Maja Edenius, Jinah Yum, Yeon-Jin Kim, Hak-Kyo Lee, Joseph F Cortese, Dyann F Wirth, John David Dignam, Anjana Rao, Chang-Yeol Yeo, Ralph Mazitschek, Malcolm Whitman. Halofuginone and other febrifugine derivatives inhibit prolyl-tRNA synthetase. Nature Chemical Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.790

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