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Alternative Treatment for Psoriasis

Indigo ointment appears to be safe and effective for treating the common skin disease psoriasis, according to a small new study.

An estimated 7.5 million Americans suffer from psoriasis, a chronic condition that causes red scaly patches of skin, often on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. The cause is unclear and there is no cure, though the condition can sometimes be controlled with various treatments, including exposure to ultraviolet light and steroid creams. But the treatments often don't work or stop working, and the steroid creams can produce side effects.

The ointment is made using indigo naturalis, a dark blue powder from a plant long used in Chinese medicine. Yin-Ku Lin of the Chang Gun Memorial Hospital in Taiwan and colleagues said they had successfully treated thousands of patients with the ointment but wanted to subject the approach to a more convincing test after a pilot study proved promising.

So, in a study published this week in the Archives of Dermatology, the researchers asked 42 people with the most common form of psoriasis, known as plaque psoriasis, who had had no luck with standard treatments to apply the indigo cream to plaques on one side of their body and a useless cream to a parallel spot on the other side.

After 12 weeks of treatment, the areas treated with the indigo ointment showed much less scaling and redness than the areas that had gotten the phony ointment; there was an 81 percent improvement in the areas that had gotten the indigo compared with a 26 percent improvement on the other side, the researchers reported. Of the 34 patients who completed all 12 weeks of the study, none experienced a worsening of psoriasis in the areas treated with indigo and 25 of them experienced a complete or nearly complete clearing up of the psoriasis. No one experienced any serious adverse effects, though the ointment did slighly stain their skin and clothing until they thoroughly washed it off.

The researchers say the study is the first attempt to put the approach to a rigorous scientific test and, while more research is needed to figure out how it might work, the results indicate it could offer an alternative to patients.

Do you have psoriasis? Have you had any luck treating it?

By Rob Stein  |  November 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions  
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It's nice (and all-too-rare) to see an alternative treatment actually be tested in a (more or less) unbiased setting, and the results make it worth a try for those looking for a new option. But 20% of the patients in this 12-week trial dropped out--that's suspicious. And for the millions with extensive psoriasis, a test on one elbow is completely inadequate, especially given the risks to the liver of this agent (at least when taken internally). The best hope for most is continued research at NIH. Ask for it here:

Posted by: BillTaylor1 | November 20, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

What exactly is indigo ointment? Is this something that dermatologists are already prescribing and is it readily available at US pharmacies? Or is it an regional folk remedy that can't be readily duplicated here? I don't know about you, but I don't have indigo in my garden, just my CD collection.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | November 20, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I have psoriasis on my elbows, knees and butt. I use Dovonex everyday and Taclonex when the plaque builds up. So far, so good. If there is an alternative being looked at so much the better especially if it can control the plaque from forming.

Posted by: melj1 | November 20, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I do agree that Indigo- Ointment has some positive effects on Psoriasis sufferers. but unfortunate enough, that the effect of this treatment is temporary and brings short lasting benefit. Psoriasis is a very complex condition, and it has some connection with sufferer's mental profile and his emotional well being. I am telling a story, that may help to understand, how such skin condition affected an old man of 75 years, who was a New Yorker. This old man had suffered such skin condition since he married his woman 40 years ago. All treatment failed, and the old man was thoroughly demoralized and wished for his own death, to escape from this dreaded disease. Funny enough, His wife who was 76 years of age, died suddenly due to her chronic lung condition, on very day of Old man's 75th. birth anniversary. The next morning, This old man declared that his Psoriatic skin condition was completely cured.
The skin and Brain developed from same primordial growing tissue of Fetus. They call it Neuroectoderm. so I personally believe that this allergic Skin condition has some thing to do with sufferer's Mental health and the environment, where he lives. Depression is anther condition, that makes Psoriasis more acute and worse for the patient. Again, Unhappy, unsecured and anxious baby, are mostly prone to have this condition.

Posted by: dsar | November 22, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

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