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60-Second Science

Traditional Treatments Show Promise for HIV, Psoriasis

Traditional Chinese medicine's astragalus root shows promise in HIV treatment, and the plant extract, indigo naturalis, may help calm the skin condition psoriasis. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Chinese medicine has been getting some props lately. A couple of recent studies have demonstrated the medical potential of traditional treatments.

Part of the challenge of AIDS is that immune cells lose their ability to divide and thus their disease fighting power. Partly because the telomeres—a sort of protective cap on the ends of chromosomes—become progressively shorter. Enter the root astragalus. It’s used frequently in Chinese herbal remedies. Researchers focused on a chemical called TAT2, which was identified in astragalus. They tested it on cells and blood from HIV infected individuals. The compound slowed the shortening of telomeres and generally improved the ability of cells to fight HIV. (The Journal of Immunology)

Another study focused on psoriasis. There’s no cure for that chronic skin disease. But in China and Taiwan, people with psoriasis frequently apply a dark blue plant-based powder called indigo naturalis. In a randomized study [in the Archives of Dermatology], indigo powder significantly reduced skin scaling, redness and hardness. The Taiwanese scientists say the next step is to determine indigo’s pharmacology and perhaps extract the specific chemical compounds that could bring psoriasis sufferers some relief.

—Cynthia Graber 

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