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Health & Balance

Chinese Herbs Reduce Chemo Toxicity

May Lessen Nausea, Vomiting
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Oct. 22, 2002 -- Do Chinese herbal medicine and chemotherapy mix well? A study is now underway, looking at whether an herbal extract could reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

Early results are promising -- indicating "a moderate reduction in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite," according to a news release.

Chinese herbal medicine looks at the universal interaction between an individual and the environment, and aims to maintain a balance between yin and yang -- harmony in the body -- in order to preserve health and combat illness.

There are about 250 types of common herbs to choose from; a combination of any of these will be prescribed to restore the balance. "It is a different concept to conventional medicine which is based on 'one drug for one disease,'" says Tony Mok, MD, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"So many people in China are taking Chinese herbal medicine and we just don't know whether it is effective or safe to use at the same time as conventional medicine," Mok says. "We tend, therefore, to advise against it -- but we should know for sure."

Many cancer patients in Hong Kong and China take Chinese medicine to reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy. The herbalist prescribes a mixture according to the patient's disease, taking into account his observation of the patient's physical condition.

Chinese medicine has been difficult to adapt to Western studies, because the concepts are so different. However, Mok and his team have found a way to do it -- by making the herbal extract into a powder form.

In his study, cancer patients receiving standard chemotherapy are prescribed a combination of herbal extracts or a placebo powder in order to reduce the cancer treatment's toxicity. The goal: to improve treatment tolerance and quality of life.

Thus far, 86 patients with either breast or colon cancer have been recruited into the trial. Mok needs about 150 more for the study.

While patients are showing a moderate reduction in nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, the full data won't be available until the trial is completed.

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