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Many herbs (including astragalus, dong quai, echinacea, and Asian ginseng) supposedly "boost" the immune system and so shore up the body against future or existing cancer. Extremely small studies suggest that shiitake or maitake mushrooms, mistletoe, extracts of the Venus flytrap, and various botanical therapies used in traditional Chinese medicine may help treat certain forms of cancer. But until better evidence is in, we cannot completely rely on them. Ginger, and maybe some other herbs, may help relieve nausea that often accompanies conventional cancer therapies.
Mistletoe (Viscum album L.) is a semi-parasitic plant that lives with several tree species, including oak, pine, fir, elm and apple, and has been used since ancient times to treat a variety of human ailments. Extracts of mistletoe have been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and to stimulate the immune system. Only the European species of mistletoe is used in the treatment of cancer. Mistletoe preparations are used to stimulate the immune system and to kill cancer cells. It has been reported to reduce tumor size and improve the quality of life and survival of some cancer patients. Three components of mistletoe (lectins, alkaloids and viscotoxins) may be responsible for its biologic effects. A typical treatment course lasts several months to years with subcutaneous injections given early in the morning 3-7 times per week. The doses are gradually increased and adjusted depending on the patient`s general condition, sex, age, and type of cancer. Mistletoe is typically given by subcutaneous injection, ideally near the site of the tumor while avoiding irradiated areas. It is sometimes injected directly into the tumor particularly on the liver, esophagus and cervix. Mixed results have been obtained in animal studies that have investigated the ability of mistletoe extracts to slow tumor growth. There is no evidence from well-designed clinical trials that mistletoe or any of its components are effective treatments for human cancer.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a low growing palm native to the southeastern United States, particularly Florida. The part of the plant used for medicinal purposes is the berries, which are harvested, dried, and ground for preparation as a tea or in capsules. It is often prescribed for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or as an anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, saw palmetto berries do not seem to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate, but rather relieve the symptoms associated with BPH such as frequent urination. Saw palmetto is not believed to interfere with accurate measuring of prostate specific antigen, or PSA (a marker for prostate cancer). All of the studies show that Saw Palmetto extract is effective for both subjective and objective measurements of prostatic enlargement . Other studies show that Saw Palmetto extract selectively antagonizes 52% of the dihydrotestosterone receptors in the prostate, thus inhibiting the hormone from binding to them, and therefore minimizing its stimulation of cell growth.
Essiac (a mixture of herbs) is actually a combination of several herbs. It originally contained burdock root, the inner bark of slippery elm, sheep sorrel, and Turkish rhubarb. More recent combinations have added watercress, blessed thistle, red clover and kelp (to aid with effectiveness and improve taste). These herbs are combined to form a tea, which is then administered orally in an effort to promote health, strengthen the immune system, improve appetite, relieve pain, improve overall quality of life, and reduce the size of tumors. While Essiac-type formulas are available at a reasonable cost in many health food stores, the brew is potentially even less expensive, since it is derived from weeds found in many backyards. Essiac`s use is growing in both the U.S. and Canada, where it is legal, but only for terminal cancer patients.
In the early 1900`s, Harry Hoxsey developed a herbal formula that he believed was effective for the treatment of cancer. It consisted of two remedies, one to be used externally, the other internally. The external mixture is said to be selectively destructive of cancerous tissue and consists of a red paste containing antimony trisulfide, zinc chloride, and bloodroot, and a yellow powder containing arsenic sulfide, sulfur, and talc. The internal mixture is a liquid containing licorice, red clover, burdock root, stillingia root, barberry, cascara, prickly ash bark, buckthorn bark, and potassium iodide. This mixture is considered to be cathartic and immune boosting. Hoxsey felt that his therapy normalized and balanced the body`s chemistry makeup, allowing it to essentially create a self-healing environment in which the immune system is strengthened and tumors are caused to die. The treatment is available in Tijuana, Mexico. The dose of the therapy varies depending on the specific needs of each patient and whether the cancer is internal or on the skin. The preparation is used either directly on the skin or drunk as a tonic. Patients are encouraged to avoid pork, vinegar, tomatoes, carbonated drinks and alcohol, and to use immune stimulants, yeast tablets, vitamin C, calcium, laxatives, and antiseptic washes, as well as adopt a positive mental outlook while taking the Hoxsey treatment.
Birch (Betula alba) was tapped by the American Indians for its sap, for a beverage and as a syrup. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from its inner bark and twigs. Traditionally, it has been used for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and all diseases of the alimentary tract. It is said to be a good "blood cleanser." It has been an approved medication in Russia since 1834. Externally applied, it is a traditional treatment for "eczema and cutaneous diseases," according to Alma R. Hutchens` A Handbook of Native American Herbs. So it should be little surprise that the white birch may be a source of potent chemicals useful in the fight against melanoma and other kinds of cancer. In March, 1995, John Pezzuto of the University of Illinois, Chicago reported that one of these compounds, called betulinic acid, was able to kill human melanoma cells transplanted into mice. Dr. Pezzuto extracted betulin from birches and converted this into betulinic acid. According to the scientist, betulinic acid "worked better than the drug most commonly used in people to treat melanoma." Unlike conventional chemotherapy, this compound caused no apparent side effects and, for obvious reasons, is potentially very inexpensive.
Aloe vera has long been known for it medicinal properties. Traditionally, as well as today, aloe gel has been used to sooth dry or damaged skin, treat minor cuts and burns, and the latex has been used for constipation. The root is sometimes used for colic. In some parts of the world, such as India, aloe is used to treat intestinal infections. Aloe may be able to help stimulate the immune system, and may also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Studies are currently underway to explore these effects. In just the last few years attention has focused on aloe for a different reason. Aloe has been found to contain a substance called acemannan. This has shown potential as a treatment for AIDS and cancer. In a number of studies, acemannan has had both immunostimulatory and directly antiviral properties. It is non-toxic even when injected at high doses, causing "no significant signs of intoxication and no deaths."