Friday, October 19, 2007


preliminary report by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

For more than 30 years now, Chinese herbs and materials derived from the herbs, such as long chain polysaccharides, have been used as adjunct therapies for cancer patients. This modern application was first developed clinically in China and Japan during the 1970s and was relayed to the rest of the world in 1983 through an international conference in Beijing which was followed up by press reports in English and other languages (see: Physiological responses to immunologically active polysaccharides). The Institute for Traditional Medicine (ITM) made an effort to alert practitioners of Chinese medicine in the U.S. to this promising role for Chinese herbs immediately after that conference, with updated information provided as available over the years. The utilization of Chinese roots, leaves, and fruits (e.g., astragalus, gynostemma, ligustrum, and lycium), and several mushrooms (e.g., coriolus, ganoderma, cordyceps, and lentinus) for cancer patients is now a routine procedure when these patients visit acupuncturists, naturopathic physicians, and others offering adjunctive cancer health care.

Within the past couple of years, however, an increasing number of patients have been told by their oncologists to avoid herbs, and to more generally avoid supplements (such as vitamins), or, even more broadly, simply avoid anything with antioxidant potential while they are undergoing cancer therapies. The admonition itself is difficult to interpret, since all foods contain antioxidants and vitamins, and they also contain most of the other substances offered in dietary supplements. Most fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts differ only slightly from herbs. A more specific recommendation is needed. But first, the question arises: why are doctors giving these instructions? What kind of information is being released to the public?

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