Although alternative practitioners by law cannot claim to offer cancer "cures", many herbal remedies have a long history (and much scientific evidence) demonstrating their anti cancer effects.
One reason the Japanese have the highest tobacco smoking rate but the lowest lung cancer rate, could be green tea. The tea contains epigallocatechin gallate, theophylline, tannic acid and other polyphenols, which have been shown to inhibit cancer growth (Jpn J Cancer Res, 1989, 80: 503-5). Or, it may be that there is something about the Japanese diet which protects against cancer (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1993, 85: 1038-49).
In 1975 the Journal of the US National Cancer Institute reported that a number of derivatives of marijuana (Cannabis sativa) were clearly shown to retard both the growth of lung cancer and spleen enlargement in mice with leukemia. Survival time was lengthened by up to 36 per cent (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1975, 55: 597-602).
Certain parts of sorrel rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) and Indian rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) contain rhein, catechin and aloe emodin which have been shown to have anti tumour activity (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1952, 13: 139-155).
Investigators at the U S University of Virginia (Charlottesville) reported that aloe emodin, which is also present in Alder Buckthorn bark and seeds (Rhamnus frangula), showed "significant anti leukemic activity in mice" (Lloydia, 1976, 39: 223-4).
Burdock root (Arctium lappa), present in both the herbal combinations used in Hoxsey's herbs and Essiac, has confirmed anti tumour properties (Acta Phys Chem, 1964, 10: 91-3; Tumori, 1966, 52: 173). In 1984 Japanese investigators at Kawasaki Medical School in Hondo Island isolated an anti mutation factor in the herb, which turned out to be resistant to protein digesting enzymes and heat. They named it the "burdock factor", which has been shown to render virtually innocuous a wide range of substances known to cause carcinogenic mutation (Mutat Res, 1984, 129: 25-31).
One important component of burdock is benzaldehyde, also present in Laetrile, or amygdalin, found primarily in the kernels of plums, apricots, peaches and bitter almonds. In 1985 Dr M Kochi and colleagues treated 65 inoperable cancer patients with benzaldehyde, and reported an overall response rate of 55 per cent, with seven patients achieving complete response, 29 achieving partial response, and 24, no further progression of disease (Cancer Treat Rep, 1985, 69: 533-7).
These results have been repeated in another study, which achieved an overall response rate of 58.3 per cent (Brit J Cancer, 1990, 62: 436-9). In both studies the conclusion was that they produced significant anti cancer effects without toxicity. A Norwegian trial found that benzaldehyde changed malignant cells back to normal (Anticancer Res, 1991, 11: 1077-81).
Astragalus oxyphysus contains the alkaloid swainsonine, which has been shown to help the spleen combat the spread of cancer to other areas of the body. Animal research conducted at the US Howard University Cancer Centre demonstrates that this herb can stop the spread of melanoma (Cancer Res, 1988, 48: 1410-5).
Within a day of being added to the drinking water of mice, it had inactivated more than 80 per cent of tumours in their lungs. This was likely due to enhanced activation of the natural killer cell function. Swainsonine has also been shown to slow the rate of growth of human melanoma cells (Cancer Res, 1990, 50: 1867-72).
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute has concluded that swainsonine causes anti cancer activity on any sort of tumour (J Nat Cancer Inst, 1989, 81: 1024-8).
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homeopath and osteopath.