Plants that Fight Cancer

By:Beth Budny

In 1996, 555,000 Americans alone died as a result of cancer or complications associated with the disease. It is expected that by the year 2000 cancer will pass heart disease as the number one killer in this country. Since every treatment for cancer and other illnesses at one time was considered "alternative" until its effects were proven, in hope of a cure, many American (15-25% of cancer patients) have turned to "alternative therapies" such as herbal medicine.


Out of over 30,000 tests and 2500 plants tested by the National Cancer Institute, the plant of Chinese origin, Zizyphus mauritiana proved to be helpful against combating melanoma cells. The major component responsible for this effect is betulinic acid, which inhibits growth of cancer cells. Three weeks after the treatment with the herb ended, there were no signs of tumor growth, no signs of toxic effects and was effective in small amounts. With the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs such as vincristine and taxol, this appears to be a promising alternative, yet more studies have to be conducted until the drug can be marketed. For example, vincristine is known to cause sensory impairment and shortness of breath shortly after the medication is taken. Betulinic acid can also be extracted from betulin found in birch trees, so that if the acid is approved as a cancer treatment, then it can be produced from the birch tree much easier than from the Zizyphus mauritiana plant.


Lignans are a group of phytochemicals that may be responsible for fluctuations in sex steroids in women such as testosterone, estradiol and estrone. Lignans can be found in many fiber-containing foods, and since Americans are known for low fiber diets, then they often have low consumption of fiber. As a result, disorders such as ovarian dysfunction, suppression of ovulation, and lower amounts of corpus luteum occur more readily in women. Ovarian disorders are probable links to breast and other cancers. The flax seed contains concentrated forms of 2 lignans-enterodiol and enterolactone-so a study was conducted to see if intake of flax seed correlated to a lower breast cancer risk.

The study conducted from 18 participants at the University of Rochester and Minnesota included 10 grams of flax seed power in conjunction with her regular low fiber diet. The results showed increase in the luteal phase, less suppression of ovulation, and a decreased frequency of ovarian dysfunction. This study therefore suggested that an intake of greater amounts of lignans could result in a decreased risk cancers, such as breast cancer, that are hormone dependent.


Another plant used in cancer treatment is called Astragalus. Research has shown that it is a powerful stimulator of the immune system. It increases and stimulates the number and growth of stem cells in the marrow tissue and lymph. In the area of cancer research, the University of Texas showed that Astragalus completely restored cancer patients immune cells to work at a higher degree than those not affected by cancer in some cases. With a belief that cancer arises when foreign cells are not removed from the system, this plant could be used as a stimulus to the immune system as a way to prevent cancer before it begins. It could also aid in quickening a cancer patient's recovery from damaged immune system as a result of chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow treatment.


Although herbal medicine is still controversial in the medical community, it is gaining ground in cancer treatment as a therapy used with conventional medicine such as chemotherapy and radiation.

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