Ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory bowel disease, is a debilitating condition with no known cause or cure. The Sishen pill is a therapeutic modality derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that relieves UC issues.1 Uncertainty continues on the mechanisms of how the Sishen pill works to improve ulcerative colitis.
Understanding the basics of ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is characterized by erroneous inflammation that is paired with gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is a disturbance of the good bacteria that live in our digestive tract and keep us healthy.1 Increasing evidence suggests an interplay between inflammation, gut dysbiosis, and altered bacterial metabolism.1
Ulcerative colitis and the immune system
The immune system defends against infections by creating a cascade of cellular communication, causing inflammation. Unfortunately, the immune system can also cause inflammation without infection. When the immune system overreacts or gets messages mixed up, causing inappropriate inflammation, it can harm the body.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis typically begins in the last segment of the intestine but can affect other segments. Symptoms of UC may include
- intestinal ulcers,
- bloody diarrhea,
- weight loss,
- and cramping.2,3
Symptoms can come and go, giving this chronic disease a relapse-remitting pattern. Most importantly, people living with UC have a higher risk of developing intestinal cancers.3 Accordingly, effective treatments are needed to curb the detrimental effects of this disease and improve quality of life.
Traditional Chinese medicine and ulcerative colitis
Western medicine offers treatments to help manage the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis. Unfortunately, many of these treatments can cause unwanted effects and may not successfully alleviate symptoms3; traditional Chinese medicine offers interesting alternatives.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has historically been used to relieve stomach upset and diarrhea and is promising in treating inflammatory bowel disease.3 Much lab research has been done to decode the various biological effects that TCM causes.3 Many of the compounds that make up TCM remedies have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds have been shown to heal intestinal damage, reverse gut dysbiosis, and regulate inflammation, with the Sishen pill particularly showing promise for inflammatory bowel disease relief.1,3
The Sishen pill is a type of TCM that may cause relief for someone living with UC1, but its effects in humans are unknown.1 Therefore, a group of researchers induced colitis in mice and treated them with the Sishen pill to study its biological effects.1
Decoding the therapeutic properties of the Sishen pill
Mice given the Sishen pill experienced an improvement in their condition. This improvement was characterized by intestinal healing and restored body weight.1 In addition, analysis of blood samples, stool samples, and intestinal biopsies revealed various positive biological effects.
Mice treated with the Sishen pill presented with
- a reduction in molecules that the body produces to promote inflammation,
- an increase in molecules that the body has to suppress inflammation,
- altered activity of white blood cells that are crucial in fighting off harmful pathogens and orchestrating inflammation,
- altered levels of bacterial colonies in the intestine,
- and improved metabolism in the bacteria living in the intestine.1
Overall, these findings suggest that the Sishen pill alleviates signs and symptoms of UC by regulating inflammation and restoring gut dysbiosis.1 However, it’s important to note that these are early findings. Additional research is needed to see if similar results happen in people.
Filling in the gap
Based on available evidence, TCM’s Sishen pill may provide relief against ulcerative colitis. In addition, emerging evidence shows that TCM can be beneficial in combination with western medicine.3 Although TCM has been around for many years, important questions about many of its practices still need to be answered.
An important caveat to the Sishen pill is the limited information on how the benefits of TCM are directly comparable to those of western medicine. Because TCM treatments haven’t been largely studied in clinical trials, the risks of adverse events are unknown.3 More information is required on how the biological effects of TCM relate to their therapeutic benefits in humans.3 Thus, further research using clinical trials is warranted to address these questions. But, on the bright side, there is a wealth of potential to tap into!
1. Ge W, Zhou B-G, Zhong Y-B, et al. Sishen pill ameliorates dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis with spleen-kidney yang deficiency syndromes: Role of gut microbiota, fecal metabolites, inflammatory dendritic dells, and TLR4/NF-κB pathway. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2022/10/03 2022;2022:6132289. doi:10.1155/2022/6132289
2. Ungaro R, Mehandru S, Allen PB, Peyrin-Biroulet L, Colombel JF. Ulcerative colitis. Lancet. Apr 29 2017;389(10080):1756-1770. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(16)32126-2
3. Yang L, Luo H, Tan D, et al. A recent update on the use of Chinese medicine in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Phytomedicine. Nov 2021;92:153709. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2021.153709