Lichen planus can affect the face, the mouth, the hands and feet and practically any other skin surface of the body. It is difficult to treat and the cause is often mysterious. The lesions may continue for years or may periodically emerge – sometimes in different places.
Does nature provide a possible treatment? Quite possibly, at least for oral lichen planus.
Researchers from King George’s Medical University in India studied 10 patients with chronic lichen planus for three months. The patients were given a turmeric ointment and applied the ointment onto the affected areas in and around the mouth twice a day for the three month period.
The patients were diagnosed and measured for thongprasom scores – which measures the amount of skin that the Lichen planus affects – before the study began and every 15 days during the study. The researchers also measured the patients’ pain through VAS scores – the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), which graphically charts the amount of relative pain drawn from questionnaires.
The turmeric ointment had dramatic results
After the first week, nine of the patients had mild clinical improvement and one had no improvement. After the second week, nine patients had moderate improvement and one had mild improvement. After the fourth week, nine of the patients had marked improvement and one had moderate clinical improvement. After the third month of treatment, nine of the ten patients were clinically healed and one had marked clinical improvement.
As for symptoms, nine out of ten had burning sensations after the first week of treatment, nine had redness, all ten had ulcerations and all ten had Wickham striae – white lines that appear around the lesions. After the second week, those symptoms were seen among five, two, eight and eight respectively. After the fourth week, none of the patients had burning symptoms, and none had redness. Five still had ulcerations and five still had Wickham strai.
But after the third month of treatment, none of the patients had burning sensations, none had redness, none had ulceration and none had Wickham strai.
Among the VAS pain scores, all the patients scored between two and four on the pain scale, and at the end of the three months, that pain went down to zero or close to it among all the patients.
The treatment also resulted in no adverse side effects.
How the turmeric ointment was made
The ointment was derived from the rhizomes of Curcuma longa L. – turmeric – while the plant was flowering.
To make the extract, the researchers ground the rhizome/root parts in a mill and soaked in 10 parts alcohol to one part powder for 48 hours. The alcohol-turmeric mix was then evaporated using a rotary evaporator – removing the alcohol – and then refrigerated. (Please note: alcohol is flammable and explosive in the midst of flame. Special non-flammable equipment is typically employed by manufacturers of alcohol extracts.)
Many commercial turmeric extract powders are made with similar processes by supplement manufacturers. An extract powder that has been standardized to circumin is consistent with the quality used in the study.
Once in powder form, the turmeric powder was mixed with glycerine to make the ointment. Other carriers such as olive oil or aloe vera could also be used to create such an ointment. Aloe vera was found to benefit oral lichen planus in other research.
Turmeric’s anti-mutagenic and immune-boosting properties
Turmeric contains numerous medicinal constituents – many of which have shown to be medicinal by themselves. These include turmerin, zingiberene and a number of curcuminioids such as curcumin.
Turmeric’s antioxidant and curative properties are well known. But what is less known is its ability to alter inflammatory gene expression among the immune system. This includes inhibiting COX-2 gene expression and inhibiting tumor growth.
In a study that illustrated this, researchers from the University of Hong Kong found that curcumin inhibited the growth of tongue cancer cells.
This ability to moderate and stimulate the immune system is a good match for lichen planus because the disorder appears to relate to damaged T-cell responses among the skin cells. Apparently the T-cells begin to attack the skin cells as though they are foreign in lichen planus.
Tsang RK, Tang WW, Gao W, Ho WK, Chan JY, Wei WI, Wong TS. Curcumin inhibits tongue carcinoma cells migration and invasion through downregulation of matrix metallopeptidase 10. Cancer Invest. 2012 Aug;30(7):503-12. doi: 10.3109/07357907.2012.691192.
Singh V, Pal M, Gupta S, Tiwari SK, Malkunje L, Das S. Turmeric – A new treatment option for lichen planus: A pilot study. Natl J Maxillofac Surg. 2013 Jul;4(2):198-201. doi: 10.4103/0975-5950.127651.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.