A traditional Chinese herbal medicine consisting of five herbs may benefit people with eczema, new research in the British Journal of Dermatology will reveal.

Scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong evaluated the effects of 'pentaherbs formulation' on patients aged between five and 21 with atopic eczema, the most common type of the disease which affects at least one in ten children.

The pentaherbs formulation capsules contain extracts of five raw herbs based on a widely used ancestral Chinese concoction - Flos lonicerae (Japanese honeysuckle), Herba menthae (peppermint), Cortex moutan (root bark of peony tree), Atractylodes Rhizome (underground stem of the atractylodes herb) and Cortex phellodendri (Amur cork-tree bark).

The first study was a clinical trial of 85 patient divided into a control group receiving a placebo, and a group taking the pentaherbs formulation. Using a questionnaire index that measures how much a skin problem affects a patient, the scientists found that the quality of life improved by a third in the group taking the herbs, compared to no improvement in the placebo-treated group.

The researchers also found that the herbal remedy reduced patients' needs for the conventional treatment of topical steroids, with the duration of use reduced by an average of four days per month in the herbal group, compared to one day per month in the placebo group.

The team went on to explore the clinical effects of pentaherbs on the immune system. This is because people with eczema have been found to have higher blood levels of certain cytokines, a group of proteins and peptides that have a pivotal role in the immune system and which trigger inflammation in eczema.

The herbs reduced the expressions of four proteins and cytokines thought to have inflammatory effects linked with eczema.* This was confirmed in tests done both by adding an extract of the pentaherbs formulation to blood cells in a test tube (in vitro testing), and by testing the blood of 28 children taking the supplements (in vivo testing).

One of the studies' authors Dr Ting-fan Leung said: "Our recent clinical trial showed that pentaherbs formulation reduced topical corticosteroid usage and improved quality of life in children with moderate to severe atopic eczema. Our latest study further clarifies this by showing that the herbs suppress the production of atopic eczema-related inflammatory mediators. Further studies are needed to explore this in more depth; however this is an interesting first step."

Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: "These early studies shows that children with atopic eczema may benefit from a specific concoction of traditional Chinese herbs, which could eventually pave the way for this remedy to find its way into mainstream medicine.

"However, we would warn against using Chinese herbal medications without first speaking to your doctor. Some retailers may not be reputable and the product they sell you may be of a low standard or could contain harmful ingredients."

; Tumour*Brain-derived neutrotrophic factor (BDNF); Interferon- ; Thymus and activation-regulated chemokine (TARC).necrosis factor- (See attached study for full names as this website's format can not include scientific symbols)

3. Articles in the BJD can be viewed online .
Study details: British Journal of Dermatology, publication date March 2008, "In vitro and clinical immunomodulatory effects of a novel Pentaherbs concoction for atopic eczema", T.F. Leung, K.Y. Wong, C.K. Wong*, K.P. Fung¹, C.W.K. Lam*, T.F. Fok, P.C. Leung¹, K.L.E. Hon; Departments of Paediatrics and Chemical Pathology*, and Institute of Chinese Medicine¹, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, Hong Kong. DOI 10.1111/J.1365-2133.2008.08502.X
Previous study: British Journal of Dermatology Aug 2007, 157 issue 2, p357-363, "Efficacy and tolerability of a Chinese herbal medicine concoction for treatment of atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study", K.L.E. Hon, T.F. Leung, P.C. Ng, M.C.A. Lam, W.Y.C. Kam, K.Y. Wong, K.C.K. Lee, Y.T. Sung, K.F. Cheng, T.F. Fok, K.P. Fung and P.C. Leung. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2007.07941.x

The British Association of Dermatologists is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease.

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British Association of Dermatologists