We have all heard of Echinacea by now and its supposed power to fortify the immune system, but a new wonder herb may rival its supremacy.
The alleged cure is hydrangea root, an herbal remedy used for centuries in Chinese medicine. The herb could mean new hope for people suffering from autoimmune disorders. A recent study from Children’s Hospital Boston found that when given to mice with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis, the root significantly stunted the development of the illness.
The root’s magic lies in a small-molecule compound called halofuginone. This compound is highly selective, inhibiting only Th17 cells - immune cells identified as key instigators of autoimmune disorders - while leaving T cells involved in normal immune function untouched. Genetically different than its other T cell counterparts, Th17 is involved in a variety of autoimmune disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type one diabetes, eczema, and psoriasis.
For people suffering from these illnesses, a drug derived from hydrangea root could be groundbreaking news. There is currently no good treatment for autoimmune disorders. The challenge is to suppress the immune system’s inflammatory attacks without weakening its function. Antibodies are the most common treatment available, which neutralize the chemicals that trigger inflammation. However, antibodies are expensive and must be given intravenously. This makes them a cost and time-intensive treatment option that addresses the symptoms, but not the problem itself. Immune-suppressing drugs are the only other alternative, but they compromise the body’s defenses, leaving patients at risk of infection.
Hydrangea is one of the 50 fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine. Unlike current treatments, this study shows that a hydrangea-based drug could fix the problem, rather than the symptoms, of many autoimmune diseases. On top of that, the drug could be taken orally. Despite its benefits, drug companies have shown little interest in developing hydrangea therapeutically, but it could be the first treatment option that actually gets to the root of it.