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Herb Mix Nixes Prostate Cancer in Lab

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."

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