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Herb Mix Nixes Prostate Cancer in Lab

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 13, 2002 -- A mixture of 10 herbs has several anti-cancer actions, test-tube studies show.

In tests by Columbia University researchers Debra L. Bemis, PhD, Aaron E. Katz, MD, and colleagues, the herb mixture slowed the growth of prostate-cancer cells. It also doubled the rate at which the cancerous cells committed suicide -- a natural anti-cancer activity known as apoptosis or programmed cell death. The findings were presented at today's meeting of the Society of Urologic Oncology.

Katz, director of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center's department of holistic urology, notes that prostate cancer cells make a substance called COX-2. A number of recent studies point to COX-2 as an important factor in cancer-cell growth. In the Columbia studies, Zyflamend decreased COX-2 activity about as well as a potent COX-2-inhibiting drug.

"This [COX-2] area of research is very exciting in prostate and other cancers," Katz tells WebMD. "With this herbal mixture, we are going to look at opening a clinical trial to see its effect in patients at high risk of prostate cancer. It is a unique thing as it is a natural compound. This is a new area of research. The study findings don't necessarily translate to cancer prevention in humans, but there is enough information here to make us want to look at it in a clinical trial."

The herbal mix is called Zyflamend, from New Chapter Inc., and has 10 herbs: holy basil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, rosemary, hu zhang, Chinese goldthread, barberry, oregano, and Scutellaria biacalensis. Extracts of some of these herbs are known to have some anti-inflammatory effects.

Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen also inhibit COX-2. So do the newer drugs Celebrex and Vioxx, which are specifically targeted at COX-2. So why use herbs to get the same effect? Thomas M. Newmark, president of New Chapter Inc. thinks herbs may offer more.

"We wondered whether a total herbal approach using the nuances and complexity of the whole herb might have advantages over a single-molecule drug," Newmark tells WebMD. "With an herb there could be thousands of molecules interacting with one another. We like the way nature organizes these molecules in full herbal form."

Katz already recommends herbal preparations for patients at high risk of prostate cancer. These are men with high PSA levels but without evidence of cancer, and men with a family history of prostate cancer.

"There is lycopene, from tomatoes," Katz says. "People with diets rich in tomato extracts have a lower incidence of prostate cancer, and men who took lycopene before prostate surgery had smaller tumors with better surgical margins. We also are studying GCP, which is made from soybeans. And in the large SELECT trials, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, we are looking at selenium and vitamin E. This trial has a five-year patient accrual period and a seven-year follow-up. I think these things can be take in low doses. They are nontoxic and inexpensive. Right now, rather than waiting around for 12 years, if you have one of these high risk feature why not take them?"

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