A combination of Chinese herbs in use for more than 1,800 years reduced the gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy in mice, while actually enhancing the effects of the cancer treatment, a new study has found. It appeared in the latest issue of “Science Translational Medicine.”
Peonies and a purple flower called “skullcap,” together with licorice and fruit from a buckthorn tree, make up the Huang Qin Tang concotion. This is a herbal medicine used in China to treat intestinal disorders such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Recently, a preliminary study found that this herb reduces stomach damage caused by chemotherapy in colon and rectal cancer patients.
Researchers from Yale University used a form of Huang Qin Tang (called “PHY906”) to find that its healing properties stem from an ability to target many biological processes. The subjects were mice, where all groundbreaking findings begin.
Everyone knows that chemotherapy can cause a host of very unpleasant and lifestyle-altering side effects. Identifying ways to relieve these effects will not only improve quality of life, but also help a patient continue with a stretch of therapy that might eradicate the cancer.
In the new study, researchers treated cancerous mice with chemotherapy, which shrank tumors but also caused massive destruction in the intestines. After a few days with PHY906, the medicine restored the damaged intestinal linings. Stem cell signaling molecules were in higher than normal levels in the mice’s guts. It seems the herbal remedy mixed with an enzyme in the gut to replace damaged intestinal stem cells with healthy ones — and blocked inflammation in the gut.
This all came, importantly, without affecting chemotherapy’s ability to kill cancer cells. This amazing ability might represent a new path for dealing with the physical costs of treating cancer.
While we’re on the subject, it’s good to know of another Chinese herb that could help here as well. Ginger has been found effective in reducing or even eliminating nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. While the evidence is mixed, some have found that taking ginger every day does have a significant effect. Even adding ginger to the mix when taking anti-nausea medications can add further benefit.