Breast Health Tip #16: Herbs


BREAST HEALTH TIP: #16: Herbs Many herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as other common spices and herbs including ginseng, licorice root, rosemary, black cohosh, hops, and chaste tree berry are effective natural medicines against breast cancer.

Most plants contain substances that protect against and fight cancer. The anti-cancer properties of some plants, like soy and flax seeds, have been well recognized for decades. But there are many other plants, especially herbs and spices, with excellent abilities to ward off breast cancer that haven’t received as much attention. Issac Cohen, a doctor of oriental medicine, licensed acupuncturist, and one of the leading authorities in the field of cancer treatment and Traditional Chinese Medicine, reported in the book Breast Cancer: Beyond Convention that several Chinese herbs including ginseng, show good anticancer activity against breast cancer. He points out that it is not unusual for plants to be effective against cancer — in fact, over 60% of the chemotherapy drugs currently being used are made from natural products.


Other researchers concur that many of the herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine are effective at stopping the growth of breast cancer cells in the laboratory. For instance, in 2002 researchers at the Cancer Research Laboratory located in Indianapolis, Indiana, found that licorice root (Ganoderma lucidum), a shrub native to southern Europe and Asia and one of the Chinese herbs used is the prostate cancer herbal mixture PC-SPES, showed strong activity against highly invasive breast cancer cells. Another study published in 2002 in the journal Anticancer Research found that of seventy-one extracts of Chinese medicinal herbs, twenty-one percent (15 out of 71) of the extracts demonstrated greater than 50% growth inhibition on at least 4 of the 5 breast cancer cell lines. In 2000, researchers at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York found that Huanglian, a Chinese herbal extract used in the treatment of gastroenteritis, also inhibits the growth of human gastric, colon and breast cancer cells.

Some common cooking spices have excellent cancer fighting properties too. For example, research shows that the spice rosemary protects against the initiation of breast tumors. When rats were given rosemary before the administration of breast cancer inducing chemicals, they develop 74% less tumors than the rats that weren’t given rosemary. Another study published in the European Journal of Cancer in 1999 found that rosemary, like green tea, improves the concentration of the chemotherapeutic agents (doxorubicin and vinblastin) in breast cancer tumor cells. That means that this aromatic spice may be helpful as a complementary treatment for women with tumors that are resistant to these drugs.

According to researchers at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, extracts of several weak estrogenic herbs including hops, black cohosh, and vitex (chaste tree berry) also inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in the laboratory.

We have just begun to scratch the surface of discovering the vast and wondrous intelligence contained in plants. As more research is completed, the pharmacopoeia of anticancer herbs will assuredly continue to grow.

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Christine Horner MD FACS Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

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