Qing Dai (QD), or Indigo, is an herbal medicinal formula extracted from specific strains of the Isatis plant. The remedy has been used throughout history to treat inflammatory conditions and continues to be widely utilized in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), especially for gastrointestinal diseases such as IBD.
Qing Dai for IBD (Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease)
Over the last decade, Qing Dai has been clinically studied as a potential treatment for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease due to its nearly uncanny ability to combat chronic intestinal inflammation and relieve rectal bleeding within weeks.
In numerous studies, QD has proven an effective mucosal repair agent, quickly inducing remission in difficult-to-treat cases of UC.
The Benefits of Qing Dai for IBD:
- Reduces inflammation
- Alleviates oxidative stress
- Promotes mucosal regeneration
- Restores intestinal barrier function
- Restores intestinal immune homeostasis
Qing Dai (Indigo): A Quick History
Throughout history, the plant family from which QD is derived has been prized for its deep indigo pigment. Indigo is mentioned by the name ‘Dyer’s Woad’, and according to the records of Julius Ceasar, it was used by the Celts, Britons, and Germanic people to paint their bodies for ritual purposes. Ceasor famously wrote, “Al the Britons doe dye themselves with woad, which setteth a bluish color upon them: and it maketh the more terrible to behold in battle.”
In parallel, Dyer’s Woad was cultivated by ancient Greeks and Romans for its medicinal qualities and its use would continue in Europe after the 11th century AD. Ancient physicians used indigo to heal antiseptic wounds, fevers, and ulcers. Meanwhile, in China, physicians were prescribing the remedy to clear heat, relieve toxicity, soothe swelling, and as an internal treatment for bleeding.
Today, Qing Dai remains a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has become a standard treatment for IBD.
How does Qing Dai work for IBD?
To better understand how QD works its magic, it helps to know the basics of the immune system, and how it relates to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Inflammation in IBD is mainly driven by a dysregulated immune response. In a healthy body, the immune system responds to threats by releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins that send signals to activate immune cells. They play a vital role in preventing infection and healing damaged tissue. This immune response is vital for fighting infection and healing the body. But when dysregulated, the inflammation becomes extreme and chronic, causing disease progression and damage to the intestinal mucosa.
Certain compounds like Qing Dai can help as they naturally downregulate the expression of pro-inflammatory factors, balance pro-inflammatory, and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and heal mucosal damage.
Anti-inflammatory Mechanisms of Qing Dai for IBD
Over 60 chemical compounds have been isolated from Qing Dai, including metabolites (substances produced during the breakdown of foods, drugs, or chemicals) called alkaloids. An alkaloid is a class of organic compounds found in plants that have a pronounced effect on the human body. You may be familiar with some of the wider known alkaloids, morphine, codeine, nicotine, and the psychedelic ergot fungi from which LSD was originally synthesized.
QD contains indirubin and Tryptophan, which are converted to “indole” compounds that have been found to activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).
Indole Ligands & the AhR Pathway
We have aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhR) in our skin, lungs, and intestines – all the parts of the body that are in contact with our environment.
The aryl hydrocarbon receptors in our intestinal tract manage our intestinal immune response and keep it in a state of balance (homeostasis). When activated, the AhR pathway signals the body to override pro-inflammatory cytokines in the intestinal mucosa by prompting anti-inflammatory activity.
One of the results is a boost in interleukin (IL)-22, which regulates intestinal immune homeostasis, reduces inflammation, and promotes mucosal tissue healing. There are numerous additional anti-inflammatory factors involved that appear to be a “downstream” product of AhR pathway activation by the indole compound. These include the downregulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6, IL-1, and TNF-α, the inhibition of NF-κB signals, the reduction of IL-1β and TNF-α expression, and the significant reduction of colon levels of interleukin-6.
Due to the latest research on IBD, the AhR receptor has actually become a main target for IBD treatments, and Qing Dai appears to be the first therapy capable of induction via this pathway.