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Life Extension Magazine

Life Extension Magazine March 2014
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Safely Manage Autoimmune Diseases

By Kathy White
Understanding Autoimmune Diseases
Regulate Immune Balance With Peony Extract

Autoimmune diseases are extremely painful and difficult to treat. In these conditions, which affect more than 23.5 million Americans ( 5 to 8%), the body turns on itself, launching a relentless attack on its own tissues.1,52 The resulting suffering is often crippling. Virtually every organ system in the human body is vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. The US National Institutes of Health estimates that at least 80 human diseases have a major autoimmune component, and new diseases continue to be added to that list.1,51

Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel diseases lead the list, but type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and a host of less well-known disorders such as Sjogren’s syndrome and certain types of anemia are also autoimmune conditions.51-53

Regardless of the specific disorder in question, all autoimmune diseases share several common features:

An imbalance in the immune system leading to deregulated inflammatory pathways.54 In some autoimmune diseases, pro-inflammatory white blood cells predominate, with abnormally low numbers of inflammation-suppressing, or regulatory cells.54

The result is a massive release of “auto-antibodies,” which attack the host’s own tissues.52

Tissues that are attacked by auto-antibodies are then subject to an excess of inflammatory cytokines.55 Cytokines are signaling molecules that white blood cells use to communicate with one another about the site and nature of a foreign invasion.55

The net result is an aggressive attack on normal body tissue that has been incorrectly identified as alien to the body.51 For example, the joints are the target tissue in autoimmune arthritis such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis; the skin and the kidneys are primary targets in lupus; psoriasis targets the skin, and inflammatory bowel diseases target the intestines.

The flood of inflammation destroys tissues in the target organs first, but as the storm rages on, inflammation increases throughout the whole body, leading to damage in other areas far from the original target.56

Mainstream medicine’s best offerings still include older drugs that simply kill off the rapidly-reproducing inflammatory cells, as well as newer “biological agents,” which are specialized antibodies that target inflammatory cytokines to neutralize them.57-59

The main problem with these treatments is that they focus on immunosuppression, which may lower the inflammation but can open the door to many other health problems.59 By focusing only on reducing inflammation, rather than on rebalancing the entire system, these drugs put the patient at increased risk of new diseases, such as invasion by microbes or cancer.1,2

And the “biological agents” such as the drugs Etanercept®, Adalimumab®, among others are crushingly expensive, must be given by IV injection, and may complicate disease states by producing their own autoimmune reactions.59,60

A better treatment option would be to gently restore the natural balance between inflammation-promoting and inflammation-suppressing cells, in other words, a dual-action approach.

According to the latest scientific data, this dual-action mechanism is precisely how peony glucosides work in the face of autoimmune disorders.4,5

Lupus

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can impact your entire body including joints, skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, nervous system, liver, and kidneys as well as increase your risk of cancer and infections.30 Attacking women 9 times as often as men, the disease occurs in cycles of flares (exacerbations) followed by periods of lower activity (remissions).31 Doctors usually treat the symptoms of lupus with a mix of powerful drugs that includes antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids, immune suppressants, and NSAIDs.30 However, despite these medical interventions, the underlying causative factors remain, and the disease can return at any time.

Studies show that peony glucosides, when used for 5 years or more, can dramatically reduce the rate of people experiencing lupus flares to just 3%, compared with 19% in those using the supplement for less than 5 years or only intermittently, and 35% in those not using it at all.32

When peony glucosides are used in combination with mainstream medicines, the results include reductions in disease activity, less need for prednisone and other immunosuppressive therapies, and a reduced rate of infections.33 Lab indicators of disease severity dropped along with lower levels of certain inflammatory markers and lower levels of the characteristic lupus autoantibody, indicating a lower level of lupus disease activity in the body.

In patients receiving only mainstream drug therapy, rates of remission were 6.4%, while rates of partial remission were29.0%, and those for whom it was ineffective was 64.5%. However, in those patients who received peony glucosides plus standard medical treatment, the results were 20.7% for remission, 51.7% for partial remission, and only 27.6% ineffective after 3 months of supplementation.34

Other studies of peony glucosides combined with Western-style medications reveal similar positive results—faster onset of action, decreased number of side effects, lowered markers of inflammation, and reduced need for immune-suppressive medications.26-28,34-36

Lab studies show that peony glucosides produce these significant improvements in lupus patients through a rebalancing of immune system cells, possibly by increasing the number of cells that suppress inflammation.37,38 And in mouse studies, animals with lupus and its associated kidney disease (nephritis) had a significant reduction in urinary protein content, indicating improved kidney function, following supplementation.39 Supplemented animals’ kidneys also showed less visible lupus-related damage, and serum levels of lupus-related autoantibodies dropped significantly.39

Other Autoimmune Conditions

There are brief reports on peony glucosides in the management of more obscure autoimmune disorders. From these we learn that:

Patients with uveitis, an autoimmune inflammation of the middle portion of the eye (iris and its delicate support structures), have a rebalancing of their inflammation-controlling immune cells after supplementation.61 This provides an excellent example of the unique, dual-acting properties peony glucosides.

Peony glucosides increase the efficacy of standard immunosuppressive drug treatment at decreasing the markedly elevated levels of antibodies in the serum of people with mixed connective tissue disease, a condition in which multiple body tissues are simultaneously under attack.62,63

Seventy-three percent of patients with chronic urticaria responded to treatment with peony glucosides, while those on anti-inflammatory medications only had a significantly lower 48% effective rate.64 In chronic urticaria, weeping, itchy skin lesions persist often for years, with unsightly scarring as well.

Peony glucosides was effective in up to 68% of patients with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which the hair follicles are targets of inflammation, resulting in patchy baldness.65 This study demonstrated significant reductions in pro-inflammatory regulating cells, and a similar increase in inflammation-suppressing cells, again demonstrating the dual action of the supplement.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that produces an itchy and unsightly scaling rash. It is responsible for untold misery and social isolation, and is a disease crying out for a safe and effective response.40

To date, only one human clinical trial of peony glucosides in psoriasis has been conducted, but the results are promising. Thirty-five psoriasis patients who were in remission were monitored during supplementation.41 At baseline, even though they were in remission, all the patients had elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, indicating a smoldering disease process. But after supplementation, there was a significant decrease in these cytokine levels, indicating that the fires of inflammation had been successfully tamed.

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that sometimes affects psoriasis sufferers; its features are similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. In a 2013 study, 19 patients underwent 12-weeks of supplementation with peony glucosides only.5 Six (32%) had at least a 25% improvement in their disease activity, and of that group all demonstrated a continuous decrease in the number of pro-inflammatory cells and simultaneous drop in inflammatory cytokines. This is one of the first-ever studies demonstrating such dramatic effects in patients treated solely with peony glucosides.

Sjogren’s Syndrome
 

Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren's syndrome is the second most-common autoimmune rheumatic disease, afflicting somewhere between 2 and 4 million Americans—the vast majority of whom are post-menopausal women.42-44 In this disease, inflammatory cytokines released from immune cells and autoantibodies destroy secretory glands, especially salivary and tear glands.43,44

People with Sjogren's syndrome suffer from dry eyes, mouth, nose, throat, and vagina, and have a massive (20- to 40-fold) increase in the risk of malignant lymphoma.42 The disease can be diagnosed and its progress tracked by specific autoantibodies, which can be sharply reduced with peony glucosides supplementation.45-47

Mouse studies reveal similar effectiveness between peony glucosides and the immune-suppressive drug hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug used to treat Sjogren’s syndrome, with prominent reductions in auto-antibodies, and increases in salivary and tear flow rates—but the peony root extract is vastly safer and works by increasing the numbers of inflammation-suppressing regulatory cells, rebalancing the immune response toward normal functioning. 47

Human research from China supports these observations, demonstrating that peony glucosides have similar effectiveness, and was safer than mainstream medications. In a study of patients taking peony glucosides or hydroxychloroquine, both treatments effectively improved saliva and tear production and decreased abnormally high levels of serum antibodies, but adverse effects in the supplement group were 5 cases of diarrhea, while in the drug group, one patient dropped out because of decreased vision, and another for potential liver damage.48

Open trials demonstrate that peony glucosides, 600 mg three times daily, was effective at improving saliva and tear flow rates and reducing markers of inflammation in 21.4% of patients at 12 weeks, and in 57.1% by 36 weeks.49,50