Historical Medicinal Uses of Skullcap
Skullcap has been traditionally used in China to treat a variety of medical conditions including clearing heat and draining, evident during fever, irritability, thirst and cough. It is also used for dry damp which may manifest as stomach problems, diarrhoea, dysentery, and interestingly thirst with no desire to drink. It may also help individuals with vomiting, coughing blood, nosebleed, or blood in the stool. Traditionally it is also used to clear liver yang rising (which may manifest as headache, irritability, red eyes, and bitter taste).
Medical uses of Skullcap
As mentioned, Skullcap has a long history of medical use in the oriental countries. Two of its flavonoids, baicalin and wogonin have both been shown in animal studies to block the potent enzyme, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which is a key contributor to inflammation. Both oral and topical forms of Skullcap are being tested to treat inflammatory conditions that range from dermatitis to inflammatory bowel disease.
Mast cells are cells capable of a wide variety of inflammatory responses. Baicalein, a flavonoid isolated from Skullcap has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers have found that Skullcap significantly inhibited production of chemicals that drive inflammation such as IL-6, IL-8, and MCP-1 in a dose-dependent manner (meaning the more you take, the greater the anti-inflammatory effect). The results showed that Baicalein inhibited the production of inflammatory cytokines through inhibition of the father of inflammatory chemicals, NF-kappaB activation, while also normalising cells that release inflammatory chemicals (mast cells). The researchers concluded that Skullcap is an excellent anti-inflammatory herb, which is very useful for conditions such as arthritis, dermatitis and bronchitis (and basically any condition with an ‘itis’ on the end of it refers to inflammation).
Skullcap is an excellent herb for treating a wide variety of cancers. A recent study tested Skullcap’s effects on childhood leukaemia. Lymphoblastic leukaemia is a common childhood malignant cancer. Chemotherapy agents are currently the major intervening strategy in the treatment of leukaemia in children however; the side effects of these medications are severe. Researchers tested Skullcap on leukaemia cancer cells to determine whether Skullcap could kill the cancer cells. Results demonstrated that baicalin particularly displayed a remarkable toxic effect against cancer cells. The researchers suggested that Skullcap is a ‘potential candidate’ for the treatment of Childhood leukaemia.
In a recent study conducted to see whether Skullcap could reduce the size of prostatic cancers, Skullcap showed a 50% reduction in tumour volume after a 7-wk treatment period. This study demonstrated that Skullcap may be a novel anticancer agent for the treatment of prostate cancer.
The root of Skullcap is one of the traditional drugs commonly used in the Far East for the treatment of gut disorders. The extracts are pathogenic towards Candida albicans, without the usual side effects of other conventional drugs. The antifungal substance in Skullcap was found to be baicalein.
Gout is the build-up of Uric acid, usually in the feet and especially the big toe. Medications that are used to treat gout inhibit the production of uric acid by inhibiting the enzyme that makes uric acid (namely xanthine oxidase). Baicalein, extracted from Skullcap at 10 µM inhibited xanthine oxidase by 64%, while the standard gout medication allopurinol showed only 43% inhibition at this concentration. This study concluded by stating that at equal concentrations, Baicalein is better than standard gout medication at reducing the enzyme that makes uric acid.
This is one of my favourite herbs for the treatment of Asthma. The baicalin and baicalein content of skullcap has demonstrated anti-asthmatic activity. This is likely to occur from baicalin and baicalein inhibiting histamine release from mast cells in the lungs, thus keeping the lungs clear.
Drug Interactions with Skullcap
Although Skullcap, as with any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications, no significant herb/drug interactions have been reported. As a precaution however, it is advised that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, to consult your health care professional. It has been demonstrated that Skullcap can speed up liver detoxification and thus may detoxify medications at an accelerated rate which may reduce their effectiveness.
This herb should only be taken during pregnancy under close professional supervision. While there are no listable side effects noted for Skullcap, it has the potential to affect aspects of immune system functioning which may bring about an abortion.
Therapeutic/safe dosages of Skullcap
The most commonly recommended therapeutic dosage for Skullcap is 3,000 - 4,000 mg per day and the usual therapeutic dosage of 1:1 fluid extract of Skullcap is 3 - 4 ml per day. Studies have found that short and long term consumption is beneficial for the treatment of all of the benefits listed above. Doses of up to 16 grams have been taken for extended periods of time (months) without adverse effects. It has been traditionally prescribed at this dose however; as Western herbs contained concentrated (standardised) components, it is prudent not to exceed 4g per day.
Other herbs that can be used with Skullcap
As with many herbs, combinations can be used to add to the therapeutic value. The following is a list of herbs that can be prescribed with Skullcap to boost its therapeutic properties:
Green Tea. Green Tea is probably the best and most researched herb for the treatment of cancer. Thus for any cancer, Green Tea would be highly synergistic to enhance the anti-carcinogenic properties of Skullcap.
• Turmeric. Theis classic Indian spice is probably one of the best herbs for curbing inflammation. It combines beautifully with Skullcap not only for conditions with inflammation, but also for the treatment of cancer.
Milk Thistle. This is one of the greatest and well researched herbs for helping with people who have liver problems. It not only helps to detoxify carcinogens, but also helps to rebuild the liver if it is damaged.
Ginkgo. Ginkgo is best combined with Skullcap if there is a need to improve asthmatic symptoms. They work at reducing the symptoms of asthma by different mechanisms and thus combine well together.
Rhododendron caucasicum. Rhododendron combines brilliantly with Skullcap for individuals with gout because it helps with the excretion of uric acid, while Skullcap reduces the production uric acid.
Skullcap would be a commendable herbal medicine to use when wanting to reduce inflammation in the body, and particularly for conditions such as arthritis, bronchitis/asthma, and dermatitis. It is probably one of the best herbs for the treatment of Gout, and also possesses potent anti-cancer properties. It is generally regarded as a safe herb but, like all herbs, should be avoided in pregnancy unless prescribed by a qualified herbalist.
This article was written by Stephen Eddey and appeared in Vol 1 Issue 26.