A traditional Chinese herbal medicine consisting of five herbs may ease eczema symptoms, a study suggests.
Eczema is linked to inflammatory immune system chemicals
Researchers found the treatment reduced the need for conventional medicines, and improved the quality of life for young patients with atopic eczema.
The study of 85 patients by the Chinese University of Hong Kong is reported in the British Journal of Dermatology.
However, UK experts warned against using Chinese herbal medicine without first consulting a doctor.
HERBS IN THE MEDICINE
Flos lonicerae (Japanese honeysuckle)
Herba menthae (peppermint)
Cortex moutan (root bark of peony tree)
Atractylodes Rhizome (underground stem of the atractylodes herb)
Cortex phellodendri (Amur cork-tree bark)
Eczema is a group of inflammatory skin disorders that make the skin dry, itchy, flaky, red and sore. In more severe forms the skin can become broken and weep or bleed.
The Hong Kong team assessed the effects of the "pentaherbs formulation" on patients with atopic eczema - the most common type of the disease which affects at least one in ten children.
The capsules contained extracts of five raw herbs based on a widely used ancestral Chinese concoction.
In the study, 85 patients were either given the medicine, or a placebo.
Patients who took the medicine reported that their quality of life improved by a third, while those who took the placebo reported no improvement.
The researchers also found the herbal remedy reduced patients' needs for the conventional treatment of topical steroids by an average of four days a month, compared to just one day a month in the placebo group.
Further analysis revealed that patients who took the herbal remedy showed lower blood levels of four proteins thought to have inflammatory effects linked with eczema.
This finding was confirmed in lab tests in which the pentaherbs formulation was added to blood cells in a test tube.
Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "These early studies show 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."