Chinese Herbal Medicine as Complementary Therapy for Cancer Patients
Most practitioners of traditional Chinese Medicine encounter resistance from Western-trained oncologists when trying to use Chinese herbal medicine in conjunction with traditional Western therapies during the course of a patient’s cancer treatments. In fact, doctors often tell patient to avoid taking vitamins or herbs during radiation therapy because they may reduce the activity of reactive oxygen species (ROS), a desired effect during radiation that has to do with the killing response of immune cells (we will see that Chinese herbs, in fact, have a synergistic effect on radiation and do not reduce ROS). Given that the research on the use of Chinese herbs in the treatment of cancer patients has been sparse up until recently, it comes as no surprise that Western-trained oncologists have looked at Chinese medicine with suspicion over the years. The tides may be changing, however, and growing evidence gleaned from highly respected medical institutions and journals points to the beneficial and synergistic effects that Chinese herbal medicine may have on Western oncology treatments.
Major Benefits of Chinese Herbal Medicine for Cancer Patients
The benefits of Chinese herbal medicine can be summed up as follows: 1) They aid in killing cancer cells, thus exerting an anti-cancer effect, 2) They help activate the immune system and protect normal cells, and 3) They protect one’s body from chemotherapy induced toxicity. As you may already know from drinking our concentrated, “earthy” tasting teas, Chinese herbal formulas are specially prescribed for each patient and are comprised of a blend of different herbs in a single formula. In any single formula, there are several groups of herbs, each having a specific function. There are herbs that help support immune function, herbs that kill cancer cells, and other additional herbs that have a balancing effect on the patient’s constitution and symptoms. Up until recently, there have not been studies that compared the effect on cancer patients of using only single herbs or herbs with one function versus using a comprehensive herbal formula which contains herbs that have multiple functions.
Synergistic Effect of Chinese Herbal Formulas on Immune Function
Dr. Yair Maimon - director of Tal Center for Integrative Oncology at the Sheba-Tel Hasomer Hospital in Israel – conducted a randomized clinical trial in which he measured changes in the number of normal cells and cancer cells in a group of patients undergoing chemotherapy with the chemo drug Doxorubicin (Yair et al., 2011). The patients were divided into several groups: Group 1 was administered only Doxo, Group 2 was administered Doxo + “K” herbs (3 herbs which “Kill” cancer cells), Group 3 was administered Doxo + “P” herbs (3 herbs which “Protect” normal cells and immune system), Group 4 was administered Doxo + “A” herbs (4 “Additional” balancing herbs); and Group 5 was administered the Doxo + “LCS101 Formula,” which was a comprehensive herbal formula that contained all “K,” “P,” and “A” herbs.
First, he looked at the number of normal cells that remained “normal,” or viable, after 48 hours of Doxorubicin treatment. In sum, Group 5 – the group administered the comprehensive LCS101 Formula together with Doxorubicin – experienced the greatest protection of normal cells. In fact, none of the normal cells died in patients who were in this group. In the other groups in which only a single category of herbs was used, there were less viable normal cells after Doxorubicin treatment. A randomized clinical trial (Maimon et al., 2011) looked at the effect of LCS101 on the reduction in white and red blood cells during chemotherapy. It found that in breast cancer patients with chemo-induced anemia, 48% of patients in the placebo group versus 18% of patients in the LCS101 group experienced a reduction in hemoglobin count after treatment. In terms of the reduction in white blood cells caused by bone marrow damage during chemotherapy, 42% of placebo patients versus 18% of LCS101 Formula patients experienced leukopenia after treatment. This supports the idea, therefore, that the comprehensive Chinese herbal formula provides some sort of synergistic protective effect on normal cells. As Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Chinese Herbal Medicine Encourages Cancer Cell Death
Dr. Maimon also investigated whether Chinese herbal medicine would interfere with or somehow enhance the cancer killing effect of chemotherapy drugs and/or radiation. Contrary to what most western oncology doctors believe, the comprehensive LCS101 herbal formula caused an increase in cancer cell death in patients who took this formula during either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. In breast cancer patients, Dr. Maimon and his team discovered that LCS101 caused a reduction in PARP-1 - an enzyme that is very active in cancer cells – thus causing cancer cells to die. In another study, Dr. Maimon tested the rate of cancer cell death in breast and prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. He found that the patients taking a high dosage of LCS101 (as opposed to a modest dosage of the formula or none at all) experience the greatest rate of cancer cell death.
The Safety and Efficacy of Our Herbal Products at TCM Healing Center
We at TCM Healing Center understand the hesitation that patients and doctors may have when it comes to taking Chinese herbal medicine. Many doctors also are concerned that the herbs themselves may have toxic heavy metals, pesticide residue, or other dangerous components in them. Unlike Chinese herbs you may find at the supermarket or some small herbal pharmacy in the middle of Chinatown or Monterey Park, our clinic uses only the highest quality, thoroughly tested herbs that come from a major herb company in China called Yifang Pharmaceutical Corporation. Therefore, we encourage patients to get regular acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatments before, during, and after oncology treatments to help enhance their immune function, augment the cancer killing effect of western chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments, decrease the side effects of therapy, and improve their overall sense of well-being.
Source: Study of the Botanical Compound Mixture LCS101 and its influence on reducing chemotherapy side effect. Yaal-Hahoshen N. Maimon Y, Siegelmann-Danieli N, Levari S, Ron I, Sperber F, Samuels N, Shoham J, Merimsky O. The Oncologist 2011; 16: 1197-1202