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With Comments from John La Puma, MD, FACP
April 2001; Volume 4; 47
Source: Uehara M, et al. A trial of oolong tea in the management of recalcitrant atopic dermatitis. Arch Dermatol 2001;137:42-43.
Mild cases of atopic dermatitis (AD) generally improve with standard treatment. However, standard treatment fails many patients with recalcitrant AD skin lesions. Study results in animal models have demonstrated that the administration of tea (i.e., green, black, or oolong) has suppressed type I and type IV allergic reactions. To test the effectiveness of oolong tea in the treatment of recalcitrant AD, we enrolled 121 patients; 118 patients completed the open study.
Patients were asked to maintain their dermatological treatment. However, they were also instructed to drink oolong tea made from a 10 g tea bag placed in 1,000 ml of boiling water and steeped for five minutes. This amount was then divided into three equal servings and one serving was drunk daily after three regular meals. Photographs of two or three representative lesion sites were taken at baseline and at one and six months. The severity of pruritus was assessed on a six-point Likert-like scale ranging from markedly improved (> 50% improvement) to worsened.
After one month of treatment, 74 (63%) of the 118 patients showed marked to moderate improvement of their condition. The beneficial effect was first noticed after one or two weeks of treatment. A good response to treatment was still observed in 64 patients (54%) at six months.
We conclude that the therapeutic efficacy of oolong tea in recalcitrant AD may well be the result of the anti-allergic properties of tea polyphenols.
Schiedermayer reports "AD is a genetically determined condition readily worsened by seasonal flare, infections, and food allergies.1...the only generally accepted therapy is avoiding irritants for as long as the skin is not completely healed. The benefit of topical corticosteroids is controversial.... However, clinical trials are notoriously difficult to perform, because of the inherent variability of the clinical state, the subjective nature of the assessment, and a large placebo response.2" (See Alternative Medicine Alert, January 1999, pp. 8-10).
These investigators think they have something better, and their data about oolong tea suggest just that.
There are a lot of reasons to recommend tea drinking. Oolong (made from partially fermented tea leaves, with a warm, slightly smoky flavor and burnished amber hue) can make you feel good just to drink it. Its polyphenol content is substantial. And sitting down, which one assumes most drinkers did after brewing, pouring, and while drinking, might well be an anxiolytic in itself.
The design of this trial is open label, uncontrolled, and not randomized. Yet few interventions achieve a 54% improvement in a chronic condition six months after the intervention. Particularly if the intervention is a food being used as a medicine.
For patients with recalcitrant atopic dermatitis, have them brew, pour, and drink oolong tea in just the way the investigators describe it above. Have them sit down when they drink, and drink slowly, as if it were effective medicine. Because it might be.
1. Meneghini CL, Bonifazi E. Correlation between clinical and immunological findings in atopic dermatitis. Acta Derm Venereol (Stockh) 1985;114:140-142.
2. Morse PF, et al. Meta-analysis of placebo-controlled studies of the efficacy of Epogam in the treatment of atopic eczema: Relationship between plasma essential fatty acid changes and clinical response. Br J Dermatol 1989;121:75-90.