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Some Herbs May Fight Cancer

Anticancer Effects Reported for Ginger, Barbed Skullcap, Green Tea

Barbed Skullcap Tea

Barbed skullcap is the Chinese medicinal herb ban zhi lian. Its scientific name is Scutellaria barbata. Tea made from the herb has been used for a variety of purposes -- including treatment of liver, lung, and rectal cancer.

Brian Wong, PhD, of Union College in Lincoln, Neb., tried giving it to a strain of mice bred to develop prostate cancer. Normally, these mice quickly develop fatal prostate tumors. Those who received barbed skullcap had much slower tumor growth.

"We hope to find the same benefits against prostate cancer in human models," Wong says in a news release.

The herb is brewed into a dark tea. It's very potent, Wong says, and only a small cupful provides a full dose. However, he warns against drinking lots of the tea in an effort to prevent cancer.

"I drink it because I know on the molecular level it is blocking carcinogens," Wong says. "But I don't drink it daily. We need to work out the liver toxicity of the extract. Too much is not good."

Green Tea

Several researchers presented new research into the anticancer effects of green tea.

Nurulain Zaveri, PhD, of SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., reported on the green tea extract known as EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). Though this extract is thought to have anticancer properties, it's not easily absorbed by the body. One would have to drink seven or eight cups of green tea a day to get an effective dose of EGCG.

Zaveri's team developed a form of EGCG that's more easily absorbed. In the test tube, it inhibits a breast cancer growth factor.

Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, of the Arizona Cancer Center, led a study in which smokers drank four cups a day of green or black tea. Decaffeinated green tea -- but not black tea -- cut down on one kind of DNA damage seen in smokers.

Jia-Sheng Wang, MD, PhD, of Texas Tech University, led studies of the effects of a green tea extract on people at high risk of liver cancer. Study participants received green tea polyphenols for three months. At the end of the study, they had lower levels of a chemical marker for liver cancer risk.

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