Compounds from traditional Chinese medicine effectively treat ulcerative colitis
05/25/2019 // Chloe Divino // Views

The last few years have seen an uptick in cases of ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the large intestine. In a recent study published in the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines, researchers from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine identified compounds from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that effectively treat ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis happens when the colon, rectum, or both become inflamed. This condition causes the bowel to move its contents often and rapidly. It can also lead to the formation of tiny sores called ulcers, which also cause bleeding and discharge mucus and pus. People diagnosed with ulcerative colitis are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those without the disease.

Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea, including an urgent need to defecate
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

While there are a number of drugs available to treat the disease, such as 5-aminosalicylic acid, steroids, and immunosuppressants, these often carry significant side effects like liver and kidney damage, drug resistance, and allergic reactions. Given that ulcerative colitis flares out repeatedly over a long period of time, the use of these drugs can present further health complications to patients.

The study identified anti-ulcerative colitis effects of the following compounds, namely: flavonoids, acids, terpenoids, phenols, alkaloids, quinones, and bile acids. The efficacy of the compounds was primarily focused on targeting either inflammation or oxidative stress, which is associated with increasing the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines and suppressing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are secreted proteins released by cells that affect the interactions and communications between cells. In addition, the study also revealed that some of the compounds might also lessen ulceration inside the large intestine. The researchers also noted that most of the compounds, except for triptolide, identified in the review were used in treating acute experimental colitis. Triptolide is a terpenoid found in the thunder god vine plant and is known for its anti-cancer properties.


"This review may offer valuable reference for [ulcerative colitis]-related studies on the compounds from natural medicines," the researchers concluded in their report.

Herbs in TCM that can help with ulcerative colitis

The study identified medicinal plants used in traditional Chinese medicine that contain compounds that are effective in treating ulcerative colitis.

  • Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), a widely used medicinal plant in China, contains baicalin, a flavonoid that relieves ulcerative colitis-induced inflammation by promoting white blood cells and modulating immunosuppressive pathways.
  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) contains chlorogenic acid (CGA), which suppresses serious cellular injury and inflammatory intestinal diseases based on animal studies.
  • Chinese mint (Mentha haplocalyx) contains menthol, a terpenoid that notably reduced body weight loss and ulcer among rats infected with colitis. (Related: Mint: The most well-known herb)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa), used for thousands of years as a natural remedy in India and China, contains the phenol curcumin, which has a wide range of health benefits. Curcumin helps with ulcerative colitis by suppressing inflammatory cytokines and promoting mucosal healing.
  • Ku shen (Sophora flavescens) has been part of traditional Chinese medicine since the Qin and Han dynasties. Alkaloids such as matrine and oxymatrine can be extracted from its dried roots and fruits. Matrine helps with ulcerative colitis by attenuating ulcers and reducing lesions in inflamed areas.
  • Red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza), referred to as danshen in TCM, is widely used to treat cardiovascular diseases in China and other Asian countries. It contains the quinone tanshinone IIa, which helps treat ulcerative colitis by decreasing the production of inflammatory cytokines. has information about herbs that help with ulcerative colitis.

Sources include: 1 2 1 2 3

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