Natural healing, natural wellness

Health Supplements

Cancer-Fighting Mint Plant

For centuries, a herb native to southeastern China and Korea has been used to treat various disorders like bacterial infections, inflammation, hepatitis and cancer. Traditional Chinese medicine has long regarded this member of the mint family to be an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and anti-tumoral agent. It is only in recent years that Western researchers have been taking a closer look at the cytotoxic effects of this herb.

Scutellaria Barbata or the Baikal Skullcap is known by many synonyms, such as apigenin, baicalin, ban-ji-ryun (Korean), banjiryun (Korean), ban-zhi-lian (Chinese), barbatin A, barbatin B, barbatin C, benzyaldehyde, berberine, carthamidin, flavonoidglycoside, flavonoids, Herba Scutellariae Barbatae, hexahydrofarnesylacetone, isocarthamidin, Lamiaceae (family), luteolin, menthol, neo-clerodane diterpenoids, PC-SPES, pheophorbide A, resveratrol, SBJ, scutebarbatine B, scutellarein, Scutelleria baicalensis, Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, Scutellaria bardata, Scutellaria barbata D. Don, Scutellaria rivularis Wall., scutellarin, wogonin.

The National Cancer Institute thesaurus describes Scutellaria Barbata D. Don (Lamiaceae) as having potential antineoplastic activity. Containing the antioxidant flavone scutellarin, herba Scutellaria barbata has been shown to induce apoptosis of ovarian and breast tumor cells in vitro.

A research article from the Sept. 17, 2004, issue of the journal Life Science concluded that Scutellaria Barbata significantly inhibited growth of a human lung cancer cell line. A study in the August 2009 issue of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that an extract of Scutellaria Barbata induced apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in a mouse liver cancer cell line. Many more studies support these findings.

In vitro studies have shown that Scutellaria Barbata exerts anticancer effects via caspase-dependent apoptosis (1,2,3), and by downregulating Bcl-2 protein that is expressed by tumor cells (4). Scutellaria Barbata also increased macrophage function in a murine carcinoma cell line that resulted in inhibition of tumor growth (5). It was shown to affect the metabolism of mutagenic compounds such as benzopyrene, thereby reducing their ability to bind DNA (6).

According to a study published in the January 2009 issue of Planta Medica which researched 13 different Scutellaria species, Scutellaria contains a combination of plant chemicals that together can significantly slow the growth of several different cancers. “On the basis of our preliminary results, we expect maximum benefit from Scutellaria…in combination with standard therapy such as surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy,” says Prahlad Parajuli, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Wayne State University and Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan.

Past studies have shown that Scutellaria has potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, which come primarily from natural plant chemicals (phytochemicals) called flavonoids. Most of the research conducted on Scutellaria so far has focused on the roots of the herb, which are rich in the flavonoid wogonin. However, the leaves and stems are also thought to be high in cancer-fighting phytochemicals, according to study co-author Nirmal Joshee, PhD, assistant professor of Plant Science at Fort Valley State University in Georgia.

After analyzing leaf, stem, and root extracts from 13 different Scutellaria species, the researchers found that each extract contained different combinations of six flavonoids: apigenin, baicalein, baicalin, chrysin, scutellarein, and wogonin. Most extracts contained three or four different flavonoids. Two extracts contained all six flavonoids.

Human breast, prostate, and brain cancer cells, as well as non-cancerous cells, were then treated with the Scutellaria extracts. Nine of the extracts significantly halted the spread of cancer cells. The higher the dose and longer the duration of treatment, the more effectively the extracts killed cancer cells. Four extracts—all from the Scutellaria leaf—were particularly effective at triggering the death (apoptosis) of brain cancer cells.

The researchers also looked at how the flavonoids in Scutellaria—both individually and in combination—affected cancer cells. A combination of four flavonoids, each at a low dose, blocked the growth of brain cancer cells by almost 50 percent. However, when those same flavonoids were given individually at the same dose, they had no effect on the cancer, which suggests that each one possesses a different anti-cancer mechanism and the effects are amplified when the different flavonoids work together.

Certain flavonoids in Scutellaria also appeared to target specific types of cancer. For example, baicalein significantly slowed the growth of brain cancer cells. This may be because individual flavonoids affect mechanisms that are unique to each cancer, said the authors in their report “In vitro antitumor mechanisms of various Scutellaria extracts and constituent flavonoids” in Planta Medica. 2009;75:41-48.

A drug based on the extract of Scutellaria barbata is also being developed to destroy the blood vessels supplying tumours. Professor Alan McGown and colleagues at the University of Salford have so far tested the drug in the laboratory on human cancer cells from tumors such as breast and lung cancers. In an anti-angiogenic approach, the drug works by attacking the tumor’s blood vessels, starving the cancer to death by blocking its supply of oxygen and nutrients. Co-researcher Dr Sylvie Ducki said: “If you target the vessels you are stopping the ‘food’ getting to the tumour and the tumour from spreading.” The drug is selective – targeting only tumour vessels and leaving blood vessels supplying healthy tissues alone. This is unlike conventional treatments which usually target tumour cells but also the normal cells, causing a lot of side effects.

A company called Bionovo has developed and is working to patent an extract of Scutellaria Barbata which it calls BZL101. The company’s researchers believe the herb’s main agent has the ability to specifically identify and target malignant cells, leaving normal cells intact and healthy. The oral anti-cancer drug BZL101 works by eliciting a cancer cell’s innate mechanism of self-suicide, or apoptosis. The drug selectively releases Apoptosis Inducing Factor-1 (AIF1) from a cancer cell’s mitochondrial membrane. AIF then moves to the cell’s nucleus, disintegrating the DNA structure, and fragmenting and killing the cancer cell. Bionovo’s scientists say that although AIF exists in all cells, this protein-translocation process can be elicited exclusively in cancer cells while avoiding normal cells.

Researchers from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and The Cancer Research Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, recently reported that BZL101 disrupts proliferation of human breast and prostate cancer cells through distinct mechanisms dependent on the cancer cell phenotype.

After completing a phase I study on BZL101, researchers at The University of California at San Francisco and the Komen/UT Southwestern Breast Cancer Research Program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
presented encouraging data at the 28th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Some 16 patients has been evaluated in the clinical trial, receiving 350 ml (12 grams dry solubles) per day of the Scutellaria Barbata extract in tea form. Details of their findings are given in their report “Herba Scutellaria Barbatae for Metastatic Breast Cancer”.

Clinical trials are tedious affairs and it takes a long time to get a drug to market. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of Scutellaria Barbata the old-fashioned way, brewed together with another ancient Chinese anti-cancer herb Oldenlandia Diffusa. This cancer-fighting combo makes a delicious, slightly bitter, smoky-flavored herbal tea, which I like to sweeten with another traditional Chinese herbal remedy, Lo Han Kuo, a dried fruit favored for its immune-system boosting properties. All these ingredients are easily available from any traditional Chinese medicine shop in Chinatown. Just ask for “Ban Zhi Lian” (Scutellaria Barbata), “Bai Hua She She Cao” (Oldenlandia Diffusa) and “Lo Han Kuo” (Momordica Grosvenor).

Incidentally, the fact that at least two known natural aromatase inhibitors – apigenin and chrysin – are flavonoids commonly found in the Scutellaria family of herbs, should make this herb even more appealing to people with hormone-sensitive cancers, such as estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. I just had my second cup of this cancer-fighting herbal tea for the day and I must say it’s a delicious way to take my medicine. Cheers to herbs!

(1) Kim DI, et al. Regulation of IGF-I production and proliferation of human leiomyomal smooth muscle cells by Scutellaria barbata D. Don in vitro: isolation of flavonoids of apigenin and luteolin as acting compounds. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2005; 205(3):213-224.
(2) Yin X, et al. Anticancer activity and mechanism of Scutellaria barbata extract on human lung cancer cell line A549. Life Sci 2004; 75(18):2233-2244.
(3) Powell CB, et al. Aqueous extract of herba Scutellaria barbatae, a chinese herb used for ovarian cancer, induces apoptosis of ovarian cancer cell lines. Gynecol Oncol 2003; 91(2):332-340.
(4) Kim KW, Jin UH, Kim DI, et al. Antiproliferative effect of Scutellaria barbata D. Don. on cultured human uterine leiomyoma cells by down-regulation of the expression of Bcl-2 protein. Phytother Res. 2008 May;22(5):583-90.
(5) Wong BY, et al. Oldenlandia diffusa and Scutellaria barbata augment macrophage oxidative burst and inhibit tumor growth. Cancer Biother Radiopharm 1996; 11(1):51-56.
(6) Wong BY, Lau BH, Teel RW. Chinese medicinal herbs modulate mutagenesis, DNA binding and metabolism of benzo[a]pyrene 7,8-dihydrodiol and benzo[a]pyrene 7,8-dihydrodiol-9,10-epoxide. Cancer Lett 1992; 62(2):123-131.

Oldenlandia – The Cancer-Killing Weed

For years I ignored it because I didn’t know what it was. There were usually several varieties available on the supermarket shelves, and in the Chinese medicinal shops it was available as dried herbs, granules as well as pills or capsules. Then recently, for some reason, I started researching it. What I found out spurred me to stock my larder with products containing it.

The oldenlandia plant has been used by the Chinese for medicinal purposes for centuries. The book “An Illustrated Guide to Antineoplastic Chinese Herbal Medicine” lists oldenlandia as having the following:

Properties: sweet, bland, slightly bitter, and slightly cold. Clears heat and toxin, activates blood circulation, removes blood stasis, promotes diuresis, and relieves stranguria (urinary obstruction).

Indications: various kinds of tumor, especially tumors of the digestive tract, lymphosarcoma, carcinoma of the liver and larynx. Also for appendicitis, hepatitis, pneumonia, cholecystitis, urinary infection, furunculosis, cellulites, and snake bite.

In an article titled “Oldenlandia and Scutellaria: Antitoxin and Anticancer Herbs” by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon, USA, it is said that the oldenlandia is from the Rubiaceae family, and is collected from the wild. It is found mainly in the southeastern provinces of China-Guangxi, Guangdong and Fujian-growing at low altitude in moist fields. According to Dr. Dharmananda, Dr. Jiao Shude, in his “Ten Lectures on the use of Medicinals”, says that he “frequently adds about 30-40 grams of this medicinal to an appropriate decoction medicine devised according to the principle of pattern identification” for treating various forms of cancer. He also suggests adding some other anticancer herbs, such as scutellaria barbata.

In “Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica”, it states that: “The herb at the dose of 30-60 grams is often added to conventional prescriptions for carcinoma.” In “Chinese Medicinal Herbs of Hong Kong”, among the indications for oldenlandia is “early stage of cancer of lungs, liver, and rectum.” It is recommended there that oldenlandia be used in a dosage of 60 grams along with 30 grams of scutellaria as a decoction, taken once a day.

Various laboratory studies of the action of oldenlandia suggest that the herb may contribute to inhibiting growth of cancer cells, promoting cancer cell death (apoptosis), and enhancing immune attack against cancer cells.

In the 2006 report “Evidence for Oldenlandia diffusa-evoked cancer cell apoptosis through superoxide burst and caspase activation” by Yadav SK and Lee SC from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, the researchers concluded that “the ethanol extract of the herb effectively evokes cancer cell apoptosis, possibly through burst-mediated caspase activation.” This study was published in, the online publication of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

In another study, the “Apoptotic effect of Oldenlandia diffusa on the leukaemic cell line HL60 and human lymphocytes”, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 114, Issue 3, 3 December 2007, the researchers reported that their findings“support a cytotoxic action for Oldenlandia diffusa”

Oldenlandia may be used as a preventive health care agent to inhibit mutation of cells by carcinogens. As it also builds up the immune system, this herb may be beneficial for anyone undergoing modern cancer therapies. Fortunately for me, oldenlandia diffusa grows wild here and beverages containing oldenlandia are cheap (the equivalent of 50 US cents per bottle) and easily available where I live. I particularly like one from China which is a sparkling mineral water with oldenlandia extract. It comes in a green glass bottle and the Chinese have been drinking it for decades. You can probably find oldenlandia beverages in most Asian supermarkets and grocers as well as Chinese medical shops.

In Chinese, oldenlandia diffusa is known as “baihuasheshecao” (sometimes written Bai Hua She She Cao). “Baihua” means white flower, “she” means snake, and “shecao” means tongue weed, referring to the long thin leaves of the herb. English-speakers sometimes refer to it as the snake-needle weed.

Cheers to good health!

Painful Joints? Eat Your Prawn Shells

Synthetic aromatase inhibitors, such as Letrozole, also known as Femara, are often prescribed to women with estrogen-sensitive health disorders like estrogen-positive breast cancer. Women on such drugs may suffer side effects such as inflammation and pain of the joints and ligaments. Sometimes, the side-effects become so unbearable that users seriously consider discontinuing the usage of these aromatase inhibitors, even though the drugs may be effective in suppressing the cancer by starving it of estrogen.

Many women recommend glucosamine together with methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) to control inflammation and keep joints healthy. There are many natural food sources of MSM but very few for glucosamine. Good natural sources of glucosamine are the connective tissue of animals – such as in bone marrow and neck meat – and the exoskeletons of shellfish and crustaceans like shrimp, crab and lobster. To obtain glucosamine from animal connective tissue, one way is to make a broth from bones. In several Asian countries, dishes featuring large bones with marrow cooked in spicy gravy are popular, and fans relish cracking the bones open with hammers and sucking the marrow out of them.

Most commercial glucosamine supplements are made from prawn or shrimp shells. Actually, prawn shells are delicious when used to make soup stock. The next time you make a dish using shrimp, don’t throw away the shells. Slow-fry the shells – heads included – in a Chinese wok or bake them at a low heat in the oven to dry them out until crispy. Once the shrimp shells are nicely toasted and fragrant, pound them into a powder with a mortar and pestle, or put them in a grinder. Store the resultant powdered shrimp shells in a glass jar in the fridge. You can use this powder to make aromatic and flavourful dishes, including broth and fried rice.

If you prefer, you can skip making the prawn shells into a powder form. After toasting the shells in the wok or the oven, simply add them to boiling water and simmer to make delicious soup stock. However, without grinding the shells into a powder form and ingesting them, you won’t get as much glucosamine from the shells.

For the lazy cooks in our midst, you can buy tiny dried shrimp with the shells intact from Asian markets and grocers.

A word of caution, people with a shrimp allergy may not want to try this, although the allergy is usually attributed to the shrimp meat rather than the shell.  Taking an oral glucosamine supplement like Neways Glucosamine Plus is a safer and easier option for most people, and will also provide you with much higher levels of glucosamine than what you can get from food.