Until the late 20th century, the primary medicine available to keep the human species alive was botanical medicine, or herbs. Botanical medicine has been with us since before the dawn of time. Archeologists have found evidence of herbal collections from 60,000 years ago.
Of the 391,000 species of plants on earth, some are trees in your neighborhood, some are vegetables and fruit in your grocery store, and some become favorites of the apothecary. 40% of modern drugs (OTC and prescription) are derived from plants or are a synthesized variation of plant extracts.
The beginning of all life on earth is photosynthesis. Plants harness the sun’s energy and combine carbon dioxide in the air with water to yield sugar, glucose. From that humble beginning, add some nitrogen and trace minerals, and the plants become Merlin the Magician in creating a bewildering assortment of phytochemicals.
There are over 6000 known bioflavonoids in plants and another 600 known carotenoids. And this is just the beginning of the phytochemical soup produced by the plants of the earth. Some of these phytochemicals are so deadly that you not only cannot eat it, but cannot even cook your food over it, such as oleander. Yet oleander extracts are now being standardized and used to treat advanced cancer patients, with noteworthy success and minimal toxicity. Remember: the difference between a medicine and a poison is dosage.
Our ancestors used to practice botanical medicine all day every day–in the kitchen. While we have a tendency to think of herbs as mysterious plant concoctions blended up for a very sick person by some eccentric older woman (the quintessential herbalist), in fact, our ancestors ate potent anti-cancer herbs in their diet and as seasonings each day. Columbus set sail in a mad suicidal adventure over the edge of the Earth in the unlikely event that he might find the Spice Islands, near India. Spices (a.k.a. seasonings, herbs, botanicals) have been used throughout history as a flavoring agent, preservative, and to cover the rotting stench of unrefrigerated food. As an unintentional by-product of using these seasoning agents our ancestors were able to keep the cancer incidence well below what we currently have.
Below is just one category of herbs for cancer. We encourage you to work with a trained herbalist for best results.
Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC) 100-1000 mg
Potent antioxidant, supports vitamin C functions, penetrates the blood-brain barrier, reduces capillary fragility, enhances peripheral circulation, protects DNA from damage by radiation and chemotherapy.
Scurvy (deficiency of vitamin C) has played a huge role in human history. Humans roamed the oceans of the world throughout the 15th through the 19th centuries, often losing up to half of the people on board ship due to scurvy. The English physician, James Lind, discovered that limes cured scurvy in 1747 and began to wind down the death toll from scurvy, while also labeling the English sailors as “limeys”.
In 1930, Nobel prize winner, Albert Szent-Gyorgy, MD, PhD, isolated pure vitamin C. Ironically, the pure white crystalline vitamin C that Dr. Szent-Gyorgy isolated would not cure bleeding gums, whereas the crude brown mixture of citrus extract would. The difference between these two mixtures was “bioflavonoids”, which include over 6,000 different chemical compounds that generally assist chlorophyll in photosynthesis and protect the plant from the harmful effects of the sun’s radiation. The rainbow colors of fall foliage are Nature’s art exhibit of bioflavonoids and carotenoids.
Some of the main categories of bioflavonoids include:
- anthocyanins; deep purple compounds found in black grapes, beets, red onions, and berries
- catechins and epigallocatechin, which are polyphenols found in apples and green tea
- ellagic acid, a true anti-cancer compound found in cranberries, raspberries, and other berries
- flavones, found in citrus fruit, red grapes, and green beans
- flavanols, such as quercetin, myricetin, found in kale, spinach, onions, apples, and black tea
- flavanones, such as hesperidin and naringen, found in citrus fruits of grapefruit, oranges, and lemons.
Some of the better-known bioflavonoids include rutin, which is defined in the DORLAND’S MEDICAL DICTIONARY as capable of “preventing capillary fragility.” Hesperidin, quercetin, pycnogenol from pine bark, and proanthocyanidins are other popular bioflavonoids. While bioflavonoids are known to be essential in the diet of insects, bioflavonoids are not yet considered essential in the human diet.
As the science of nutrition matures, we are finding that some of the “star” nutrients of the past may be just “supporting actors” for the real star nutrients. For instance, tocotrienols and coenzyme Q may be more important than vitamin E in human health. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA from fish oil), though not considered essential, may be more important than alpha-linolenic acid (ALA from flax oil), which is considered essential. And bioflavonoids may be more important than vitamin C. OPC bound to phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) has been shown to improve absorption and cell access to OPC.
Animals with implanted tumors lived longer when given anthocyanin from grape rinds. Flavonoids administered in the diet of rats helped to reduce DNA damage from benzopyrene carcinogens. Bioflavonoids are potent chelators, helping to eliminate toxic minerals from the system. Bioflavonoids in general help to reduce allergic reactions, which create an imbalanced immune attack against cancer and infections.
OPC traps lipid peroxides, hydroxyl radicals, delays the onset of lipid peroxidation, prevents iron-induced lipid peroxidation, and inhibits the enzymes that can degrade connective tissue (hyaluronidase, elastase, collagenase), which then helps to prevent cancer cells from “knocking down the walls” of surrounding tissue for metastasis. Bioflavonoids may inhibit tumor promotion. Bioflavonoids enhance the activity of T-lymphocytes. Various flavonoids have produced striking reductions in cancer incidence in animals, sometimes up to almost total inhibition of tumorogenesis.
IN SUMMARY, the answer to cancer may well lay in humble plants that produce therapeutic substances known to prevent or reverse cancer. In the brilliant movie Medicine Man Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco race to find the herb that has cured locals from cancer. Finding the active ingredient is no small challenge. But well worth the effort. You can start practicing herbal medicine simply by eating a plant based diet and liberally using the kitchen spices mentioned above.
Excerpted from Beating Cancer with Nutrition by Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS