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Herbs in the News...

Testing Herbs Against Cancer

   NEWPORT BEACH, CA   ( – Preliminary results from a study of ancient Chinese herbs by University of California, San Francisco researchers indicate that a surprising number of them may have anti-cancer benefits—at least in the laboratory.

Led by Dr. Michael Campbell, the researchers have so far looked at more than 70 traditional Chinese and Tibetan herbs and preparations, and found that almost a third may have at least some ability to inhibit cancer cells
grown in test tubes.

“We’re testing agents that have been used for hundreds of years,” said Campbell in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

More than 120 herbs and traditional medicines will eventually be evaluated by Campbell’s team and others at UCSF. Sixteen of the herbs tested so far have been deemed “highly active” against breast cancer cell growth. Among these, rz rhei, a Chinese Rhubarb root, was especially promising in laboratory tests.

Other herbs that showed significant anti-cancer activity in laboratory tests included ban zhi lian, zhi mu, and wang bu liu xing. These may be the focus of future clinical trials in human breast cancer
and other patients.

Another dozen herbs have been found to be “moderately active,” according to Campbell, with the balance having no discernible impact on the
cancer cell cultures.

In contrast, some early results have been disappointing. For example, a small trial evaluating a Tibetan herb preparation created by the personal physician of the Dalai Lama slowed tumor progression in only one of nine women with metastatic breast cancer who took the preparation over the course of a year.

In addition to testing Chinese and Tibetan herbs for anti-cancer properties, other UCSF researchers are evaluating a 21-herb formulation to see if it alleviates some of the side effects of chemotherapy. A third trial is studying the use of Chinese herbs to treat menopausal symptoms in
breast cancer patients.

“We are focusing on areas unmet by industry,” said another UCSF researcher, Isaac Cohen, in the Chronicle story. However, he cautioned that their work should be kept in perspective. “We are targeting symptoms. We don’t have a cure.”

SOURCE:  The San Francisco Chronicle, July 16, 2001.  Written by Richard A. Zmuda,
Editorial Team

Herbal Remedies: Helpful or Harmful?

Experts Call for Government Regulation
of Alternative Medicines

Americans are turning more and more often to herbal remedies as a natural alternative to drugs. But before you head off to the health food store for that bottle of St. John's wort or kava kava, you should know that natural does not necessarily mean safer. In fact, evidence is mounting that some of the most popular herbs can
have serious side effects.

Now, a team of researchers has collected all the information available -- from clinical trial results to FDA warnings to individual physician's reports -- on several of the most widely used herbs, and created a set of guidelines that doctors and patients can use to protect themselves. Their complete report appears in the Spring issue of the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and
Clinical Neuroscience.

"The bottom line is that these herbal medications are purported to be harmless, but that's an incorrect myth. [Reports about individuals] and letters to the editors in various medical journals have documented that these are in fact not harmless," says lead author W. Curt LaFrance Jr., MD, who is with the departments of neurology and psychiatry at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I.

St. John's wort, for example, which can indeed be useful in mild or moderate depression, has now been implicated in heart transplant rejection. Apparently, LaFrance explains, the herb can render anti-rejection drugs ineffective. Kava kava, which has been shown to successfully relieve insomnia and anxiety, can also cause patients on various psychiatric drugs like Valium and Librium to become severely disoriented. And the list of side effects and drug interactions continues to grow.

Unlike prescription drugs, which are closely regulated by the FDA, herbal products are considered food and are not required to undergo rigorous animal and human testing before being placed on the market. It is entirely up to the consumer to seek out information before deciding to take an herbal product, but most consumers are not doing the research. And they're not talking to their doctors, either, LaFrance tells WebMD.

Although doctors should be making every effort to learn exactly which drugs -- chemical or herbal -- their patients are taking, patients must do their part as well, says LaFrance. People worry that their doctor will scoff at their use of an alternative medicine, he says, so they put themselves at unnecessary risk
by not mentioning it.

"I think there is potential for these herbal medications, so I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water," says LaFrance. "But it needs to be cautiously monitored." Herbs may come from a garden rather than a laboratory, but they "are bioactive substances with the potential to do good and the potential to harm," he says. "The bottom line is that they
should be regulated."

Source:  By Liza Jane Maltin,
WebMD Medical News, June 12, 2000

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