Phytomedicines (medicines derived from plants) for sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood condition caused by defects in the production of haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen across the body. Sickle cell disease occurs when people inherit faulty genes responsible for producing haemoglobin from both parents. A variety of complications and a reduced life expectancy are linked with sickle cell disease. Phytomedicines are medicines derived from plants in their original state. People with sickle cell disease may come across them in terms of plant-remedies from traditional healers. Their benefits have not been evaluated systematically. Laboratory work has long suggested that these medicines may help to ease the symptoms of sickle cell disease.

This review includes two trials. Each trial looked at a different phytomedicine. This review found that Niprisan® (also known as Nicosan®), may help to reduce episodes of sickle cell disease crisis associated with severe pain. Ciklavit®, which has been reported to reduce painful crises in people with sickle cell disease, deserves further study before recommendations can be made regarding its use. The trial of Ciklavit® also reported a possible adverse effect on the level of anaemia. More detailed and larger trials of these medicines will need to be carried out before we can make any recommendations about their use. Further research should also assess long-term outcome measures.

Authors' conclusions: 

While Niprisan® appeared to be safe and effective in reducing severe painful crises over a six-month follow-up period, further trials are required to assess its role in the management of people with sickle cell disease and the results of its multicentre trials are awaited. Currently no conclusions can be made regarding the efficacy of Ciklavit®. Based on the published results for Niprisan® and in view of the limitations in data collection and analysis of both trials, phytomedicines may have a potential beneficial effect in reducing painful crises in sickle cell disease. This needs to be further validated in future trials. More trials are required on the safety and efficacy of phytomedicines used in managing sickle cell disease.

Read the full abstract...

Sickle cell disease, a common recessively inherited haemoglobin disorder, affects people from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean basin, Indian subcontinent, Caribbean and South America. It is associated with complications and a reduced life expectancy. Phytomedicines (medicine derived from plants in their original state) encompass many of the plant remedies from traditional healers which the populations most affected would encounter. There has been little systematic appraisal of their benefits. This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2010 and updated in 2013.


To assess the benefits and risks of phytomedicines in people with sickle cell disease of all types, of any age, in any setting.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register, the International Standard 
Randomised Controlled Trial Number Register (ISRCTN) and the Allied and Complimentary Medicine Database (AMED).

Dates of most recent searches: Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register: 13 October 2014; ISRCTN: 17 January 2015; AMED: 20 January 2015.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised trials with participants of all ages with sickle cell disease, in all settings, comparing the administration of phytomedicines, by any mode to placebo or conventional treatment, including blood transfusion and hydroxyurea.

Data collection and analysis: 

Both authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data.

Main results: 

Two trials (182 participants) and two phytomedicines Niprisan® (also known as Nicosan®) and Ciklavit® were included. The Phase IIB (pivotal) trial suggests that Niprisan® was effective in reducing episodes of severe painful sickle cell disease crisis over a six-month period. It did not affect the risk of severe complications or the level of anaemia. No serious adverse effects were reported. The single trial of Cajanus cajan (Ciklavit®) reported a possible benefit to individuals with painful crises, and a possible adverse effect (non-significant) on the level of anaemia.