Complementary and Alternative Cancer Treatment
Mistletoe is a traditional remedy and panacea dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks and the Druids. Nowadays it is the most widely used cancer drug in Germany, where it was introduced as a cancer treatment in 1917 by Rudolph Steiner, founder of anthroposophy. Since the 1960s, there have been at least 30 trials of mistletoe. These indicate that mistletoe not only has a direct toxic effect on cancer cells but also stimulates the bodily immune system to deal with cancer cells. A number of studies have indicated extended survival times for patients treated with mistletoe extracts. Substances in European mistletoe also affect the heart. Low concentrations can lower blood pressure and heart rate, while higher levels can cause the contraction of blood vessels, and thus possibly raise the blood pressure.
Of the several species of mistletoe, only Viscum album, the white-berried European mistletoe, is used therapeutically. Mistletoe’s anti-cancer properties are believed to arise from its toxic constituents, viscotoxins, and lectins. Because of its toxicity, mistletoe extract needs to be prepared by carefully controlled processes. Extracts are administered either orally or by subcutaneous injection. Because of the negative indications and potential side effects, it is wise to seek professional medical advice before using any mistletoe extract. It is also worth bearing in mind that mistletoe belongs to the ivy family, to which some people are allergic. European mistletoe extracts are sold under brand names such as Iscador, Israel, Vysorel, and Helix.
US Pharmacist – An excellent and comprehensive summary of mistletoe and its uses as an anti-cancer agent.
National Cancer Institute – A good, brief summary of mistletoe research.
DrugDigest – A summary of mistletoe research, with information on its potential side effects and when not to take it (e.g. it can cause miscarriages).
Vitacost – A summary of mistletoe research in simple language.
Mistletoe Extracts and Cancer Therapy – Reviews the book Iscador, by Robert Gorter, giving details of mistletoe’s anti-cancerous properties and the method used for making the extract known as Iscador.
Physicians’ Association for Anthroposophical Medicine – “Use of Iscador, an extract of European mistletoe (Viscum album), in cancer treatment.” This is the research paper detailing the Iscador trial mentioned above.
Park Attwood Clinic – A private clinic near Kidderminster in Worcestershire, UK, specializing in anthroposophical medicine, including the use of mistletoe.
The two closely related species of the thorned vine known as cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis), are traditional herbal remedies from the Amazon rainforest. The popular use of a cat’s claw as folk medicine has prompted a number of scientific studies into its efficacy. Although more research is required, it seems clear that the herb has potent immuno-booster properties, and may thus be useful for cancer patients. Other properties claimed of the cat’s claw include pain relief, inflammation reduction, blood cleansing, bowel cleansing, and the reduction of both blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also said to kill cancer and leukemia cells and to be diuretic, antioxidant, and antiviral.
Cat’s claw contains several groups of phytochemicals that account for most of these properties. Firstly, there is a group of oxindole alkaloids with documented immuno-stimulant and antileukemic properties. Then there are quinovic acid glycosides, which are anti-inflammatory and antiviral. Antioxidants (tannins, catechins, and procyanidins), as well as plant sterols (beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol), also account for the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties. And the plant’s carboxyl alkyl esters have demonstrated immuno-stimulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, and cell-repairing properties (Raintree Nutrition).
Tropical Plant Database – An excellent and detailed overview.
University of California, Moores Cancer Center – A brief overview.
Pure Health Systems – An overview from a US supplier.
Artemisinin (Artemesia annua L., known in China as qing hao su or QHS) is extracted from the Chinese herb, qing hao, known in the West as sweet wormwood or sweet Annie, a herb not to be confused with common or bitter wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.). The story behind its discovery as a cancer drug must be unique. The recipe for the remedy was found among ancient medical recipes discovered in a tomb dating back to 168 BCE during an archaeological dig in China during the 1970s. According to one of these recipes, the ancient Chinese used an extract of wormwood to combat malaria. Artemisinin was first isolated in l972 and synthesized in 1983. As an anti-malaria remedy, artemisinin has subsequently been well-researched and is widely used with considerable success in Asia and Africa.
Artemisinin reacts with the high iron concentrations found in the malaria parasite, forming free radicals (charged atoms and molecules). The free radicals then disrupt the cell membranes of the single-celled parasite, causing their demise. Considering this process, two professors at the University of Washington, Henry Lai and Narendra Singh, began to wonder whether the same process could bring about the destruction of cancer cells. Cancer cells contain a high level of iron since they require a considerable quantity to replicate DNA when they divide. Lai and Singh’s idea was to boost the iron levels in cancer cells and then kill them selectively using artemisinin. To achieve this they used a combination of the blood plasma iron-carrying protein, transferrin. Cancer cells have a large number of transferrin receptors on their surfaces. In this way, the artemisinin is delivered to the cancer cells together with the iron it needs for successful cancer-cell destruction. Lai and Singh have observed that artemisinin-tagged transferrin is particularly potent in destroying cancer cells.
Their initial laboratory trials on breast cancer cells were surprisingly effective. 75% of cancer cells were killed within 8 hours, and nearly all of the remainder within 16 hours. An earlier experiment with leukemia cells was even more impressive: all cancer cells were destroyed within 8 hours. A possible reason for this could be the iron level in leukemia cells, which have more than 1000 times the iron concentration of normal cells – one of the highest iron levels among cancer cells. In fact, a study with tumor-implanted rats indicated that only when artemisinin was administered along with iron was tumor growth inhibited. Despite positive anecdotal evidence, few other animals and no human clinical trials have yet to be conducted. In fact, because cancer cells thrive on iron, many physicians are reluctant to try artemisinin with iron supplementation.
Artemisinin crosses the blood-brain barrier and may therefore be useful for fighting brain tumors. The same is true of Poly-MVA. For the same reason, extremely high doses, way above those that are clinically advised, can be neurotoxic. The long-term toxicity of much smaller doses is not presently known. In treatments of this nature, it always needs to be remembered that positive laboratory in vitro studies do not always translate into positive animal studies, and positive animal studies may not be reflected in positive human studies.
Science Daily – “Ancient Chinese Folk Remedy May Hold Key To Non-Toxic Cancer
Treatment.” An introductory article.
Cancer Salves – An introduction to the original research of Lai and Singh, although the article contains some errors, detailed after it. The roots of the Chinese herb dong Quai (Angelica Sinensis) or yellow dock (Rumex Crispus) are suggested as the best ways to boost iron levels if required.
Alpha Omega Labs – An fair overview from a previous US manufacturer of the product, who was forcefully closed down in 2003. An interesting website, with many insights into the machinations of the cancer industry.
Minnesota Wellness Directory – An overview, with dosage suggestions, contra-indications, and so on.
New Horizons – “Cancer Smart Bomb: An Idea from Ancient Chinese Medicine, Part I.” A readable in-depth article was written in consultation with Henry Lai. Ditto, Part II.
Life Sciences – The original research paper was presented by professors Henry Lai and Mahendra Singh from the University of Washington.
Artemisinin in Cancer Treatment – A presentation by Dr. Nahendra Singh.
Anticancer Research – “Synergistic cytotoxicity of artemisinin and sodium butyrate on human cancer cells.” Further in vitro research by Lai and Singh, indicates that artemisinin and sodium butyrate (an anti-cancer short-chain fatty acid produced by anaerobic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract during the normal fermentation of dietary fiber) can act synergistically to provide enhanced destruction of cancer cells.
Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets – “Targeted treatment of cancer with artemisinin and artemisinin-tagged iron-carrying compounds.” Lai and Singh’s research on the efficacy of artemisinin-tagged transferrin.
Jonathan Treasure – “Sweet Annie & Artemisinin: Selective Bibliography.” A useful selection of papers.
Alternative Vetinarian – Artemesinin for dogs.
The University of Washington – A conservative disclaimer, advising against the use of artemisinin in the fight against cancer until fuller studies have been completed, with a full list of references to all the relevant scientific studies. Such disclaimers are presumably essential for legal reasons, and to protect the university’s reputation against allegations of making unsubstantiated claims.
MyVitaNet – An inexpensive US source of artemisinin, produced by Allergy Research Group.
Green tea contains a number of substances known as polyphenols, 90% of which are classed as catechins, the main ones in green tea being catechin, gallocatechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate (also known as EGCG). This family of compounds has been shown to possess cancer-fighting properties, and to be useful cancer preventative agents. Of these, EGCG is the most active and is the most widely studied.
Black tea is made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, which have been allowed to stand in the air for some time before processing and packaging, during which time they start to ferment. Green tea is made from leaves preserved by other means, usually steaming or baking. The two processes produce a different chemical cocktail, and thus different flavors and medicinal properties. Also, the longer the fermentation process, the less the concentration of polyphenols, and the higher the caffeine content. Green tea contains about a third to a half the caffeine content of black tea.
Green tea is widely consumed in China and Japan, where a number of epidemiological studies have concluded that its consumption results in a significantly reduced risk of cancer. Life Extension Magazine comments, “One of the most striking studies on green tea was done by a group of Japanese researchers on women who had been treated for breast cancer. Analysis six years later of women with stage, I or II breast cancer showed that those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day slashed their risk of recurrence almost in half. This is equivalent to approximately 200 to 400 mg of EGCG. Furthermore, the researchers found that the more green tea a woman drank before she got cancer, the fewer metastases to lymph nodes she would have (if she was premenopausal). Women who engage in the Japanese tea ceremony are half as likely to die not only from breast cancer but from any cause, according to researchers who followed them for eight years.”
The anti-cancer properties of EGCG are the focus of a great many research studies. A search among the published literature reveals that over 100 such studies were published in 2005 alone. Also, a number of clinical trials are currently underway, investigating the response of a number of different kinds of cancer to green tea extract. EGCG’s anti-cancer properties are believed to be wide-ranging. As well as powerful antioxidative properties (which are greater than vitamins C and E), it is thought to inhibit the action of carcinogens, induce the natural death (apoptosis) of cancer cells, inhibit the inter-cell signaling that switches on cancer genes, inhibit the expression of COX-2 and other enzymes involved in the development of cancer, regulate bodily immune and inflammatory responses, and inhibit the production of the VEGFs (vascular endothelial growth factors) required for the growth of blood vessels to developing tumors.
As a cancer-fighting substance, far larger quantities of the active catechins are required than can be consumed by drinking a few cups of green tea per day. Hence the popularity of green tea extracts. However, the quality of such extracts can vary considerably, and it is advisable to source an extract in which the concentration of catechins/polyphenols (especially EGCG), is standardized. And if you don’t want to consume a large quantity of caffeine, then choose a decaffeinated extract.
The side effects of green tea include weight loss and various effects associated with caffeine. People with heart or kidney problems, stomach ulcers, stress-related problems, or who want to avoid the stimulating effects of caffeine, are therefore better off with decaffeinated green tea or extract. Caffeine also interacts with various pharmaceutical products, including heart and blood pressure drugs, oral contraceptives, sedatives, and drugs used for depression. Large quantities of green tea have also been shown to interact with blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin. People on these kinds of medication should consult with their doctor before taking green tea. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid green tea.
American Institute for Cancer Research – “Green Tea: What It Is and Why It’s Studied.”
Life Extension Magazine – “Anticancer Foods and Supplements.” A useful review, including a section on black tea and green tea.
Supplement Watch – A useful overview, up to 2000.
CLL Topics – A discussion of green tea dosage and toxicity, especially in relation to CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) patients, with reference to some research studies.
Leukemia Research – “Clinical effects of oral green tea extracts in four patients with low-grade B-cell malignancies” (2005). Case studies of four CLL patients at the Mayo Clinic, where a positive response was reported.
Leukemia – “VEGF receptors on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) B cells interact with STAT 1 and 3: implication for apoptosis resistance” (2005). Concerns about the VEGF-inhibitory effect of EGCG.
Leukemia Research – “Natural products and the treatment of leukemia” (2006).
Sealevel – “Clinical Trials for Cancer Chemoprevention using Polyphenon E Green Tea Extract”. A summary of nine current clinical trials.
Cancer Decisions – Dr. Ralph W. Moss’ perspective on the VEGF-inhibitory properties of green tea extract.
Woodlands Healing Research Center – A good overview of nutrition and cancer, with some specific comments concerning green tea.
For Your Health – A UK supplier of standardized, decaffeinated green tea extract.
Organic Pharmacy – A US supplier of standardized, decaffeinated green tea extract.