In a research by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM), it was found that Chang Shan – a Chinese herbal medicine used thousands of years ago to treat various problems is also beneficial in treating autoimmune disorders. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
What is Chang Shan?
Chang Shan (Dichroa febrifuga) is a root extract taken from a specific type of Himalayan evergreen hydrangea plant, also called hortensia which mainly grows in Nepal and Tibet. For nearly 2,000 years, Chinese have treated malaria and other illnesses with this herb. To fully understand the health benefits of Chang Shan, researchers from MGH and HSDM studied the active compounds contained in the said plant. They found out that the bioactive component called halofuginone (HF) works by blocking the development of T helper 17 (Th17) – highly inflammatory cells that are linked to the development of autoimmune disorders including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease.
Halofuginone is a synthetic halogenated derivative, a natural quinazolinone alkaloid. Many experts and drug manufacturers are developing the use of HF in producing products that will aid in the treatment of scleroderma (skin tightening). In the US, this particular compound has received an orphan designation from the Food and Drug Administration.
More on Halofuginone
The researchers also found that HF is effective in blocking an enzyme known as tRNA synthetase EPRS and activating the body’s acid response (AAR). This blockage helps prevent inflammatory immune responses that are linked to autoimmune diseases. According to Professor Malcolm Whitman from the Developmental Biology Department at the HSDM, halofuginone blocks the body’s autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether. Just like most herbal medicines, Chang Shan targets only the autoimmune responses rather than the entire immune system, making it a safer treatment option. While fighting autoimmune disorders, HF also boosts one’s immunity, making it potentially effective. Prof Whitman added that this compound could inspire novel therapeutic methods in dealing with autoimmune problems.
Tracy Keller, co-author of the study pointed out that their research shows a good example of how solving the molecular mechanism of herbal medicines can lead to new insights into physiological regulation and to novel approaches to the treatment of disease. She added that HF works by signalling pathways which have many downstream effects.
Other Health Benefits of Chang San
Aside from its ability to block autoimmune responses, Chang Shan was also found to have anti-cancer properties. In a 2011 study, researchers from University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Tel Aviv University revealed that HF helps fight leukaemia by preventing the cancer cells from spreading. It also has the ability to kill cancer cells by inducing the process called apoptosis or ‘cell death’. Other studies also show that HF can be used to address other types of cancer besides leukaemia. Said bioactive component of Chang Shan was found to hamper the progression of prostate cancer, tumour, and bladder cancer. This ‘wonder herb’ was also shown to help reduce tissue scarring and scar formation.
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