Medicinal herbs refers to the use of plants for prevention and treatment of diseases. Medicinal herbs can help prevent cancer, or it can help you heal from it if you already have cancerous tumours in your body. But being “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe to take. Just like conventional medicines, herbal medicines have an effect on the body, and can be potentially harmful if not used correctly.
Medicinal herbs refers to the use of plants for prevention and treatment of diseases. (1) There is an answer in nature for every challenge that humans and our animal companions face. Cancer is no different. Medicinal herbs can help prevent cancer, or it can help you heal from it if you already have cancerous tumours in your body. Using cancer fighting herbs along with an alkaline based diet can help you reverse the cause of cancer and stop it from coming back again. (11)
It is estimated that every 18 months, the entire cellular structure of our bodies is replaced. Even with significant pharmaceutical developments, new cancer therapies have a serious flaw, in that cancer cells develop resistance to the drug used for the treatment, according to Professor Paul Workman of Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Cancer Therapeutics. Therefore, despite all the advances in pharmaceutical medical science, there is something in our body that has a natural reversion to old type-models. (9)
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a specific concept for tumour, but not for cancer. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that tumour can be caused by internal and external factors. Internal factors include qi stagnation and blockage of qi in internal organs in the body. External factors include toxins from the environment. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, cancer is the manifestation of an underlying imbalance, and a tumour is the uppermost branch of the illness, but not the root. (8)
More than 30% of the entire plant species, at one time or other, have been used for medicinal purposes. It has been estimated that in developed countries such as United States, plant drugs constitute a much as 25% of the total drugs, while in fast developing countries such as China and India, the contribution is as much as 80%. Chinese, Indian, Arabian and other traditional systems of medicines make extensive use of about 5,000 plants. (7)
Medicinal herbs and their derivative phytocompounds are being increasingly recognised as useful complementary treatments for cancer. A large volume of clinical studies has reported the beneficial effects of herbal medicines on the survival, immune modulation, and quality of life of cancer patients, when these herbal medicines are used in combination with conventional therapeutics. A range of clinical studies have indicated that a spectrum of anti-cancer activities from various herbal medicines can be detected. (3)
Medicinal Herbs with Anti-Cancer Properties
Plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants as early as 3,000 BC. Indigenous cultures (such as African and Native American) used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used. Researchers found that people in different parts of the world tended to use the same or similar plants for the same purposes.
In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to extract and modify the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their own version of plant compounds and, over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favour of pharmaceutical drugs. Around a quarter of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from botanicals. The World Health Organisation has estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care.
Plants have long been recognised for their therapeutic properties. For centuries, indigenous cultures around the world have used traditional herbal medicine to treat a myriad of maladies. By contrast, the rise of the modern pharmaceutical industry in the past century has been based on exploiting individual active compounds with precise modes of action. This surge has yielded highly effective drugs that are widely used in the clinic, including many plant natural products and analogues derived from these products, but has fallen short of delivering effective cures for complex human diseases with complicated causes, such as cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and degenerative diseases. While the plant kingdom continues to serve as an important source for chemical entities supporting drug discovery, the rich traditions of herbal medicine developed by trial and error on human subjects over thousands of years contain invaluable biomedical information just waiting to be uncovered using modern scientific approaches. (2)
Herbal medicines are those with active ingredients made from plant parts, but being “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe to take. Just like conventional medicines, herbal medicines have an effect on the body, and can be potentially harmful if not used correctly. They should therefore be used with the same care and respect as conventional medicines. (4)
Most herbs have not been completely tested to see how well they work or to see if they interact with other herbs, supplements, medicines, or foods. Products added to herbal preparations may also cause interactions. (5)
We live in a world of manufactured medicines and prescriptions. But a lot of us now are turning back to the medicinal plants and herbal remedies that can heal and boost physical and mental wellbeing. But the power of these medicinal herbs is still being explored. They aren’t a cure for everything; in fact, many carry the same risks and side effects as manufactured medicines. Many of them are sold with false promises. Avoid using herbs for infants and children and for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. (6)
Research in a developing field of medicine known as integrative oncology is attempting to understand which complementary therapies, including herbal medicines, are safe and effective to combine with conventional cancer treatments. Herbs are generally recognised as safe but patients must remember that herbal remedies are still a type of medicine. Research on herbs suggests they may help to:
Medicinal plants are categorised based on the parts of the plant used: whole plan, root, stem, bark, leaf, flower, fruit and seed. Several formulations like herbal teas, extracts, decoctions, infusions, tinctures, etc are prepared from medicinal plants. (7)
(1) Herbal Medicine Today: Clinical and Research Issues, Fabio Firenzuoli and Luigi Gori, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007 Sep; 4(Suppl 1): 37–40. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
(2) Li FS, Weng JK. Demystifying traditional herbal medicine with modern approach. Nat Plants. 2017;3:17109. Published 2017 Jul 31. doi:10.1038/nplants.2017.109 https://www.nature.com/articles/nplants2017109
(3) Therapeutic Applications of Herbal Medicines for Cancer Patients, Shu-Yi Yin, Wen-Chi Wei, Feng-Yin Jian and Ning-Sun Yang, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 302426. Published online 2013 Jul 11
(7) Medicinal Plants, P. P. Joy, J. Thomas, Samuel Mathew, Baby P. Skaria, KERALA AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITY, Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Research Station
(4) NHS Herbal Medicines
(5) A Guide to Common Medicinal Herbs University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester, NY
(6) Nature’s 9 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and the Science Behind Them , Healthline
(8) Chinese Medicine Treatment for Cancer, The Traditional Chinese Medicine Simple
(9) A Review of Herbs and Cancer, Cancer Active
(10) Is Herbal Medicine Effective in Cancer Care?
(11) Herbal Remedies for Cancer
Supplemental: Banned and restricted herbal ingredients according to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/list-of-banned-or-restricted-herbal-ingredients-for-medicinal-use/banned-and-restricted-herbal-ingredients
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