Nearly a decade ago, two patients came to consult me about three weeks apart: the first, a man who'd been diagnosed with kidney cancer, and the second, a woman presenting with fairly advanced breast cancer. Both were adamant that they were not prepared under any circumstances to undergo any orthodox treatment, such as radiotherapy, surgery or chemotherapy. Their relatives were not happy about this, they said, but had reluctantly acquiesced, as had their respective oncologists.
Both were looking for some sort of supportive medical herbal treatment from Oriental medicine or some other well-established alternative herbal therapy. Both wanted whatever in botanical medicine could strengthen their bodies' all-round resilience. They also both understood—and I underscored the fact—that I was not offering them a cancer cure.
I agreed to treat each of them in this supportive capacity with the proviso that they also undergo ultrasound scanning of their tumors every two months to monitor any possible changes. For my part, I would only diagnose their state of health according to the parameters used in Oriental medicine—with which they both agreed.
Remarkably, both patients had similar issues in terms of traditional Chinese medicine. In both cases, I found that dampness was distressing their Spleen/Pancreas Qi channels: both were suffering from abdominal distension, loss of appetite, frequent indigestion and symptoms of irritable bowel. They both also had some wheezing, with sporadic coughing and heavy pressing sensations in the chest as well as the steady production of a bit of phlegm.
This led me to prescribe what the Chinese call Hòu Pò, which is known to Western herbalists as Magnolia officinalis (magnolia bark).1
At the time, I knew that magnolia bark had been used with success in Oriental medicine for at least a thousand years, and that it had no serious contraindications other than amplifying the effects of diazepam.2
When I looked into Western scientific research, I discovered that magnolia bark extract is supported by a great deal of evidence for successfully combating all sorts of illnesses (see box, right). There's evidence that magnolia bark has the ability to inhibit tumor growth due to its cytotoxic (cell-killing) effects while also suppressing angiogenesis—the growth of blood vessels that provide nutrients and oxygen to tumors—as well as other antitumor effects, such as inducing apoptosis (natural cell death) in numerous different types of cancer cells.3
I also discovered it has no toxic effects on genetic material—it causes no mutations or changes in any of the major organs of the body, including bone marrow and red blood cells—making it safe to take either intravenously or by mouth.4
As I researched it further, I became aware of a plethora of published studies strongly suggesting that magnolia bark extract and its constituents are extremely effective for dealing with a wide variety of cancers (see box, page 63).
Indeed, some published studies have shown that enemas made with M. officinalis bark appear to result in higher circulating levels of its bioactive components than taking the herb by mouth.5 But as magnolia bark extract is not widely available as suppositories, and I prefer not to use infusions as part of naturopathic colonic irrigation, I prescribed oral capsules to these two patients (see box, page 63).
Of course, I told neither of my patients any of this information as I didn't want to raise their hopes, particularly as I had been so careful to emphasize that I was not treating their cancer, but only offering them herbs as supportive treatment.
Both patients faithfully went for their regular ultrasound screenings, and in both cases, their tumors continued to grow for about six months into the herbal treatments. Yet, both patients continued to resist the ever-more-insistent urgings of close relatives to go down the conventional medical route.
After around 10 months, the tumors in both these patients finally seemed to stop growing, and from that time on, the cancers began to get smaller. By month 22, both patients' tumors were so small that they were no longer discernible on ultrasound.
In both cases, their oncology consultants put the results down to exceptional good luck, a fortuitous case of spontaneous remission, which does occasionally happen.
These two patients, who declined to be identified in this article, are both still alive and well. In fact, since that time, the patient who recovered from his kidney cancer now annually celebrates the day that the radiologist first told him his tumor was shrinking in size. He considers it his 're-birthday' and he invites me to his local pub for a celebratory drink (although he himself no longer consumes any alcohol). His family is there too, and it's always a joyous occasion.
The making of a killer plant
The ancient genus Magnolia has been around since even before there were bees: fossilized specimens of plants belonging to the Magnoliaceae family date back 95 million years.1 Over all this time, the extremely strong fragrance of the flowers of this genus has attracted beetles, which often carried all sorts of infections. As a consequence, Magnolia had to become physically robust: the carpels—the female reproductive structures that project from the center of their flowers—
of all 210 or so flowering species of Magnolia are exceptionally tough, able to ward off all kinds of invasive hazards.
A versatile cure-all?
Aside from its powerful antitumor effects, magnolia bark has also been shown to have the following effects:
- Antibiotic activity against a range of pathogens in the gums1
- Inhibition of the growth of Helicobacter pylori, the cause of chronic gastritis and peptic ulcers2
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects: it can reduce tissue swelling, and unlike the corticosteroid dexamethasone, it has no adverse effects on the liver3
- Anxiety-relieving (anxiolytic) effects4
- Antioxidant effects, including fighting against reactive oxygen species that can damage DNA, RNA and proteins, and even cause cell death5
- Reducing oxidative stress and offering neuroprotective benefits for neurodegenerative disorders (such as Alzheimer's disease)6
- Relieving asthma and cough through increasing corticosterone secretion by the adrenal glands7
- Limited antiviral activity against HIV-1 in human white blood cells (part of the immune system)8
- Reversing liver damage, including alcoholic fatty liver9
- Preventing arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and ischemia (blocked blood flow) in heart muscle by boosting nitric oxide (a vasodilator) production10
- Stress relief in women transitioning to menopause as well as easing symptoms in postmenopausal women11
- Controlling tooth decay and gum inflammation and bleeding when added to chewing gum.12
How to take magnolia bark
My two patients were taking a brand similar to Swanson Health Products' Premium Brand Magnolia Bark (400 mg, 60 capsules), which is readily available through various websites on the internet. The usual dosage is two capsules three times a day.
Warning: If you choose to take this herb, you should definitely be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional. And don't take magnolia bark if you're also taking antianxiety medications like diazepam (Valium), as the herb will boost the effects of the drug.
The herbal cancer killer
Magnolia bark extract and its principal constituents—honokiol and magnolol—have long been used in traditional Oriental medicine to treat various ailments, and have proved effective for:
treating ovarian cancer in combination with cisplatin (a chemotherapy agent)1
inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells in test-tube studies and in mice through 'cell cycle inhibition'—stopping cell cycle progression so cells can no longer participate in duplication and division2
preventing and even curing prostate cancer: exposing three types of human prostate cancer cells to honokiol resulted in DNA fragmentation and cancer cell death. As the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute concluded: "Our data suggest that honokiol... may be an attractive agent for treatment and/or prevention of human prostate cancers."3
suppressing metastasis (spreading) of kidney cancer cells,4 which are known for their high incidence of metastasis. Honokiol has been shown to exhibit multiple anticancer effects, and a recent study by researchers at the Cancer Center of Guangzhou Medical University in the People's Republic of China has now confirmed that magnolia bark can halt the spread of kidney cancer cells by blocking cancer stem-cell activities. The authors are optimistic that this herb may be a "suitable therapeutic strategy" to treat this type of cancer.4
getting past the blood-brain barrier and killing off neuroblastoma cells—brain tumor cells that often arise in young children. This is because honokiol is a polyphenol made up of molecules small enough to pass through the particularly dense membrane that blocks most molecules from entering thecentral nervous system. Again, this test-tube study suggests that this plant derivative "may be a potential candidate drug for treating brain tumors."5
enhancing the effectiveness of cancer chemotherapy. When mice grafted with human lung cancer were treated with honokiol either alone or plus the chemo drug cisplatin, then compared with untreated controls, it was doubtful that the addition of cisplatin enhanced cancer suppression. This led the researchers, from Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, to conclude that "honokiol alone had the antitumor activity against human lung cancer" and to suggest that this bioactive plant compound be further explored for cancer treatments in humans.6