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Fighting Cancer With Chinese Herbs

Posted on August 25, 2016 by AUTHOR (edit in theme settings) | 0 comments

Supplementing Cancer Treatment With Chinese Herbs

By Joel Harvey Schreck L.Ac

Chinese herbs can’t cure cancer. Primarily because there is no word for cancer in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  Since the ancients didn't have microscopes, how could they know about cancer cells?  This is why you won't read about cancer in the annals of TCM. But, and this is most important, you will find exact protocols for treating Zheng Jia [癥瘕] (abdominal masses). TCM doctors have historically recognized ‘cancer’ as several distinct diseases rather than a single disease. Ironic that modern medical research is beginning to take a similar view. 

There’s no doubt that cancer, by any name, is well known and well documented throughout Chinese medical literature, as TCM doctors have been dealing with it for millennia. Drawings of tumors are found on turtle shells and "oracle bones" dating from the eleventh century B.C. Medical texts dating from 200 B.C. offer detailed descriptions of tumors and their causes.

The 'causes' may sound odd, but the ancient names describe the condition, and also imply the treatment.

The diagnosis of “Accumulation of Toxic Heat and Phlegm, for example, instructs the doctor to use substances that ‘Dissipate Accumulations, Detoxify Fire Poisons, and Transform Phlegm. That’s an ancient treatment plan for cancer.
Eastern medicine is about seeing and remedying what is out of balance, so that ‘dryness’ is moistened, ‘cold is warmed, and ‘heat’ is cooled.

Of course, today's practitioners have a more complete view of cancer.  Our training now includes both ancient and modern knowledge.  Most patients are undergoing Western treatments simultaneously, so that we are further educated by our practice.
We've learned to complement Western oncology by supporting conventional treatments.  We can ease nausea and fatigue from chemo.  We offer soothing unguents for radiation burns, and herbs and acupuncture are often helpful in relieving the pain caused by surgery, and constipation caused by opioids.  I've listed some of these herbs and herbal products below.
Note that some of the substances mentioned in this article are powerful and can have side effects if not properly used.  Always best to see a practitioner.

Herbs Used To Treat Side Effects Of Chemotherapy & Radiation

    • Nausea

    • Herbs
    • SHENG JIANG (Ginger),
    • HUO XIANG (Patchouli),
    • CHEN PI (Citrus Peel)
    • Formula
    • Stomach Curing Pills, HUO XIANG CHUN QI WAN, PO CHAI pills
    • Fatigue

    • Herbs
    • REN SHEN (Ginseng),
    • XI YANG SHEN (American Ginseng)
    • Formula
    • Golden Book Pills, SHIH CHUAN DA BU WAN, Eight Treasures Pills
    • Dryness and Thirst

    • Herbs
    • SHU DI HUANG (Foxglove root)
    • LU GEN (phragmitis)
    • XI YANG SHEN (American Ginseng)
    • Formula
    • Radiation Burns

    • Herbs
    • LU HUI (aloe), 
    • FENG MI (Honey)
    • Formula
    • JING WAN HONG Ointment, 
    • Spring Wind Burn Cream

    Flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat)

    • Herbs
    • ZHI MU (anemarrhena root), ZHI ZI (gardenia seed), JIN YIN HUA (honeysuckle flower), BAN LAN GEN (isatis root)
    • Formula


    These herbs are used for ameliorating side effects, and as helpful as they are in this respect, they don’t represent all that TCM can do for cancer patients. Over and above this symptom relief, there are other, far more profound contributions that TCM can make. First among these is the idea of QI, or vital energy.

    Gift of Heaven, It’s The Qi 

    Since modern science has understood for almost a century that there is actual energy in our bodies, it should be a no brainer that QI (body energy), postulated by Chinese doctors over 2,500 years ago, exists, and it should also be a no brainer that this energy can be a factor in our health.  Unfortunately, medical researchers appear to be brainless in regard to this matter and give little thought to ‘energy’ as a factor in our well being. Despite their obsession with testing and measuring everything, researchers appear to have no interest in studying or measuring energy in the body. They don’t study it, speculate about it, or try to account for it as a disease factor.  Is this because treatments involving the QI (rather than drugs) is likely to profit only the patient?

    TCM, on the other hand, is all about energy. We notice that energy animates us, fires our muscles, moves our blood, and warms our innards. After studying the behavior of QI for several millennia, TCM doctors have devised methods of evaluating it, and thus can predict the effects of Qi on mind and body.

    Though it’s obviously invisible, energy is clearly present in, and surrounding our living body. If we could actually see our body’s energy, we’d probably look like spheres of radiant light and heat containing rivers and flows and twinkles of light. The gaze of the TCM doctor includes this vision. Practitioners of Eastern medicine have developed methods of building, moving, and redirecting Qi. We are sure that strong QI helps us to resist disease, recover from illness, and to thrive. It’s unlikely a Western trained doctor can grasp this idea. The concept is missing.

    Gift of the Earth  It's the Herbs.

    Besides the concept of Qi, TCM also offers our huge pharmacy of 10,000 natural substances, which can far extend the reach of Western drugs. Moreover our natural drugs can do things like Build QI, Clean Toxins, Vitalize Blood, Stabilize Defense, and more. You just can’t do these things with pharmaceutical drugs.

    Today's TCM cancer treatment is called FU ZHENG GU BEN. "FU ZHENG" means strengthening what’s correct. "GU BEN" means regeneration and repair. 

    In choosing which herbs to use in a cancer formula, today’s practitioner has access to current scientific research as well as to our long historical experience and hindsight. This dual perspective enables us to select herbs that can perform necessary TCM functions, and at the same time, have potential anti-cancer benefits as suggested by modern research. Following are examples of this.

    FU ZHENG, Herbs to Support That Which Is Correct
    Sometimes called Supporting the Righteous, this concept can take several forms:

    Defending and Protecting. Thousands of years ago, physicians in China conceived the idea of the immune system. They called it the WEI QI (protective energy) and considered it a function of the Lung (respiratory system). You’ll find many herbal substances that are designated as lung strengtheners. These safe and beneficial substances can be taken by anyone, sick or well, to support the body in combating the disease process. Used by cancer patients, they may have the potential of reducing reliance on the powerful and often toxic chemicals used against cancer. Of particular importance in cancer treatments are HUANG QI (Astragalus root), NU ZHEN ZI (Privet fruit), JIAO GU LAN (gynostemma), and LING ZHI (Reishi Mushroom).
    Balancing and Harmonizing. A good formula will contain herbs that re-balance perceived imbalances, regardless of whether or not these imbalances are considered cancer causes. Symptoms of ‘heat’ or inflammation may be balanced with ‘cold’ substances like BAI HUA SHE SHE CAO (Oldenlandia plant) or BAN ZHI LIAN (scutellaria barbosa) . These herbs are said to have a cold nature, making them suitable to Clear Heat. Studies have also found these particular herbs to have tumor inhibiting or other anti-cancer properties. This makes them herbs of choice when treating heat or inflammation in cancer patients.

    Strengthening Digestion. Very often, special herbs are included in formulas to strengthen digestion so as to make herbs more digestible and increase absorption of the medicine. Herbs that do this are generally considered ‘Spleen Tonics’’. But don’t be misled by the word ‘spleen’, because they don’t have much to do with the organ we know as the spleen. To better understand the TCM ‘Spleen’, think of it as the brain of your digestive system, regulating the flow, release, and timing of enzymes, acids, and other digestive substances and processes. These actions are normally associated with your pancreas in Western medicine. There are innumerable herbs classified as spleen tonics, but by far the most commonly used is GAN CAO (licorice root). When added to a tonic (strengthening) formula, it’s thought to increase the effectiveness of the tonic herbs by enhancing digestion and absorption. Though you’ll find licorice root in many anti-cancer formulas, you’ll also find YI YI REN (Coix, Job’s Tears), as Coix is also thought to slow down the spread of the disease.
    A typical anti-cancer formula might also contain herbs that are used for other purposes. For example

    Anti Oxidant Herbs & Cancer?

    Using anti-oxidants for cancer is controversial. Some herbal oncologists favor the use of antioxidant substances in their formulas. Anti-oxidants slow down the rate of cell oxidation and prevent cells from oxidizing (burning up).  Slowing down this process is generally seen as protective of health.  Others practitioners disagree with this logic in cancer patients and discourage using antioxidant herbs.  They theorize that anti-oxidants may also protect cancer cells from harm.  I personally have no opinion about this, as there is little good study of the matter and zero information in the annals of TCM. For those who wish to use Chinese herbs with antioxidant properties, here are two good choices. 

    QING HAO artemisia apiece, (wormwood), is well known for its antimalarial properties, and it has lately been studied as a possible anti-caner agent or source of anti-cancer drugs. It also has major antioxidant properties. Though wormwood is known by all herbalists, clearly the most famous Chinese herbal antioxidant is GOU QI ZI lycii fructus (goji berry), having found its way into the mainstream of pop anti-oxidizing agents. It's a good choice for an additive, as it actually tastes good.  This can't be said for wormwood.   These days you'll find products containing goji berries in virtually every natural food store.

    Anti-Tumor Herbs.

    Vitalizing Blood Herbs
    Both traditional and modern prescriptions for cancer make use of herbs that ‘Move The Blood’.   We believe that moving the blood breaks accumulations, such as tumors, cysts, and other masses. Of the hundreds of herbs used to move the blood, the stronger ones are called Blood Breakers, of these; several are believed to have anti-cancer properties. Most notable among these are E ZHU curcuma rhizoma (zedoary rhizome), SAN LENG spargani rhizoma (burreed tuber), YU JIN curcuma radix (turmeric root), and LONG KUI solanum nigri (black nightshade).

    Herbs that Soften the Hard
    Other kinds of herbs used against solid tumors are herbs that ‘Soften the Hard’. Many of these herbs are animal or mineral substances. Common among them are MU LI concha ostrea (oyster shell), LONG GU os draconis (fossil bone), and GUI BAN testudinis plastrum (turtle shell).

    Directional Messenger Herbs

    Chinese herbalists have long relied on certain herbs to direct a formula to a specific organ or location. These are called messenger herbs. Some of these are used generally, say up or down. For example, HUANG QI astragalus radix (milk vetch root) directs the action of a formula upward. This could be used added when supporting the treatment of cancer in the lung or brain. A small amount of HUAI NIU XI achyranthes radix (achyranthis root) is used to send the action of a formula downward, potentially useful in formulas addressing the bladder, prostate, or testicles.

    H for Specific Organs
    All herbs in the TCM pharmacopeia are designated to effect specific organs. Most of them effect multiple organs. A few, based on scientific research, are thought to have anti-cancer properties, making them the messengers of choice in cancer formulas aimed at these organs.
    The following tables are examples.

        • Basic Combinations
        • Breast cancer:
        • oldenlandia, taraxacum, scutellaria, aurantium, curcuma
        • Stomach cancer:
        • oldenlandia, imperata , scutellaria , imperata
        • Esophageal cancer:
        • oldenlandia, scutellaria, imperata, cotton root
        • Colon cancer:
        • oldenlandia, scutellaria, solanum sanguisorba, viola
        • Ovarian cancer:
        • oldenlandia, scutellaria, solanum, turtle shell
        • Lung cancer :
        • scutellaria, taraxacum, ophiopogonis, oldenlandia
        • Liver cancer:
        • oldenlandia, scutellaria, phragmites, peonae alba
        Some Herbs by Function
          • Vitalize Blood Herbs
          • Anti-Cancer Herbs
          • Strengthening Herbs
          • Miscellanious Herbs
          • JI XUE TENG
          • Militia branches
          • LING ZHI
          • REI SHI mushrooms
          • HUANG QI
          • Astragalus root
          • Yi Yi Ren
          • Coix
          • E ZHU
          • Curcuma zedoaria
          • LU FENG FANG
          • Hornet nest
          • XI YANG SHEN
          • American Ginseng root
          • LuGen
          • Phragmites
          • TAO REN
          • Peach seed kernel
          • LONG KUI
          • Black nightshade
          • SHU DI HUANG
          • Chinese Foxglove root
          • Bai Mao Gen
          • Imperata
          • HONG HUA
          • Safflowers
          • BAN ZHI LIAN 
          • Scutellaria barbata plant
          • JIAO GU LAN
          • Gynostemna Pentaphyllum plant
          • Mu Li - Oyster Shell
          • and other shells
          • SAN LENG
          • Sparganii rhizome
          • DONG LING CAO
          • Rabdosia Rubescentis plant
          • REN SHEN
          • Panax Ginseng root
          • Pu Gong YIN
          • Taraxacum
          • WU LING ZHI
          • Flying Squirrel Feces
          • BAI HUA SHE SHE CAO
          • Oldenlandia plant
          • GUI BAN 
          • Turtle shell
          • Ji Xue Teng
          • Millettia

          Further Reading
          Chen HS, Tsai YF, Lin S, et al. Studies on the immuno-modulating and anti-tumor activities of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) polysaccharides. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry . Nov 1 2004;12(21):5595-5601.
          Wong BY, et al. Oldenlandia diffusa and Scutellaria barbata augment macrophage oxidative burst and inhibit tumor growth. Cancer Biotherapy Radiopharmaceuticals 1996; 11(1):51-56.
          Gao Y, Zhou S, Jiang W, et al. Effects Of Ganopoly (A Ganoderma Lucidum Polysaccharide Extract) On The Immune Functions In Advanced-Stage Cancer Patients. Immunological Investigations: A Journal of Molecular and Cellular Immunology . Aug 2003;32(3):201-215.
          Chan JY, et al. Pheophorbide a, a major antitumor component purified from Scutellaria barbata, induces apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Planta Medica 2006; 72(1):28-33.
          Woo JH1, Li D, Wilsbach K, Orita H, Coulter J, Tully E, Kwon TK, Xu S, Gabrielson E. Cancer Biology & Therapy . 2007 Dec;6(12): 2005-11. Immunofluorescent microscopy found that Coix seed extract, a commonly used treatment for cancer in China, inhibits NFkappaB and protein kinase C signaling effecting cellular pathways of recognized importance in neoplasia.
          R Zhao, C Chen, Y Wu - Zhongguo Zhong, Isolation and structure determination of furan sesquiterpene from Chinese traditional herb ezhu (rhizome of Curcuma zedoaria Rosc.)
          X Zhou, X He, G Wang, H Gao, G Zhou, Steroidal saponins from Solanum nigrum, … - Journal of Natural Products, 2006, Study on the effect of polysaccharides from Solanum nigrum Linne on cellular immune function in tumour-bearing mice
          Jorge F.S. Ferreira, Devanand L. Luthria, Tomikazu Sasaki, and Arne Heyerick
          Molecules 2010, 3135-3170; Flavonoids from Artemisia annua L. as Antioxidants and Their Potential Synergism with Artemisinin against Malaria and Cancer
          Subuti Dharmananda Ph.D., Oriental Perspectives On Cancer And Its Treatment
          Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon
          Biswal BM, Zakaria A, Ahmad NM. Topical application of honey in the management of radiation mucositis. A preliminary study. Support Care Cancer 2003;11:242-248.

          About the Author

          Joel Harvey Schreck L.Ac., known online as Dr. Shen, is a California acupuncturist and herbalist who’s been practicing since 1986. He is founder of Berkeley’s Shen Clinic, the websites DrShen.com, YinChiao.com and AcupunctureAmerica.com, and creator of the popular Dr. Shen brand of natural medicines sold nationally at hundreds of natural food stores. Joel has published numerous articles including one in the California Journal of Oriental Medicine and several online on acupuncture.com He’s been an adjunct faculty member and lecturer at AIMC, Berkeley's Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College.  Baytree Publications published his first book, A Patient’s Guide to Chinese Medicine, in 2009. He is currently working on his second book, Chinese Herbs for the Mind.

          Did you know that Dr. Shen is also an artist and photographer? See his work here 



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