The influence of traditional herbal formulas on cytokine activity

Toxicology. 2010 Nov 28;278(1):140-59. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2009.09.020. Epub 2009 Oct 7.


Many of the botanical "immunomodulators", a class of herbal medicines widely recognized in traditional medical systems such as Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine, alter immune function and may offer clinically relevant therapeutics or leads to therapeutics. Many of these traditional remedies are prepared from combinations of medicinal plants which may influence numerous molecular pathways. These effects may differ from the sum of effects from the individual plants and therefore, research demonstrating the effects of the formula is crucial for insights into the effects of traditional remedies. In this review we surveyed the primary literature for research that focused on combinations of medicinal plants and effects on cytokine activity. The results demonstrate that many extracts of herb mixtures have effects on at least one cytokine. The most commonly studies cytokines were IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, TNF and IFN-γ. The majority of the formulas researched derived from TCM. The following formulas had activity on at least three cytokines; Chizukit N, CKBM, Daeganghwal-tang, Food Allergy Formula, Gamcho-Sasim-Tang, Hachimi-jio-gan, Herbkines, Hochuekki, Immune System Formula, Jeo-Dang-Tang, Juzen-taiho-to, Kakkon-to, Kan jang, Mao-Bushi-Saishin-to, MSSM-002, Ninjin-youei-to, PG201, Protec, Qing-huo-bai-du-yin, Qingfu Guanjieshu, Sambucol Active Defense, Seng-fu-tang, Shin-Xiao-Xiang, Tien Hsien, Thuja formula, Unkei-to, Vigconic, Wheeze-relief-formula, Xia-Bai-San, Yangyuk-Sanhwa-Tang, Yi-fey Ruenn-hou, and Yuldahansotang. Of the western based combinations, formulas with Echinacea spp. were common and showed multiple activities. Numerous formulas demonstrated activity on both gene and protein expression. The research demonstrates that the reviewed botanical formulas modulate cytokine activity, although the bulk of the research is in vitro. Therapeutic success using these formulas may be partially due to their effects on cytokines. Further study of phytotherapy on cytokine related diseases/syndromes is necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / pharmacology*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / immunology
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*


  • Cytokines
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Plant Extracts