The "Treatise on the spleen and stomach" (Pí Wèi Lùn) as the first record of multiple sclerosis in the medical literature - A hypothesis based on the analysis of clinical presentation and herbal medicine

J Tradit Complement Med. 2020 Mar 2;10(3):288-300. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2020.02.009. eCollection 2020 May.


Background: The "Treatise on the spleen and stomach" (Pí Wèi Lùn) is the work of the scholar and physician Li Gao (Jin-Yuan dynasties, 1115-1368 C.E., China). Li Gao described a clinical presentation that today would fall under the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and proposed the treatment with herbal medicine and nutritional guidelines. The PWL is well known for its application in the treatment of MS and autoimmune conditions. However, this theoretical "MS" has not yet been analyzed through a scientific investigation, and research on its herbal formulations for MS is scant.

Methods: We analyzed the PWL "MS" clinical presentation considering biomedical diagnostic criteria and neurological correlates. To support our review, we searched Pubmed for studies on the PWL main herbal formulas and their herbs/isolates used for the believed "MS" which treated experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE)/MS.

Results: We found a very close correlation between the PWL "MS" and the current MS diagnosis. Twenty four studies on the herbs-isolates showed significant amelioration of EAE, neuronal damage, and demyelination.

Discussion: Collectively, Astragali radix, Ginseng radix, Glycyrrhizae radix, and berberine containing Phellodendri cortex reduced the severity of EAE through different signaling pathways and mechanisms of action. These herbs provided a wide range of properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-microglial activation, anti-infiltration of leukocytes, apoptotic/anti-apoptotic balance, and neuronal protection.

Conclusion: Our review proposes that the PWL is the first record of MS in the medical literature. Its formulas and herbs-isolates offer a fertile area for MS research and an invaluable potential for its treatment.

Keywords: BǔZhōng Yì Qì Tāng; Huáng Qí Rén Shēn Tāng; Pí Wèi Lùn; autoimmune diseases; multiple sclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review