Sunday, November 29, 2009

Meditation, Stem Cells and Telomeres

I have been coming across telomeres from many different sources in my studies as of late.
Telomeres are sections of genetic material at the end of each chromosome whose primary function is to prevent chromosomal “fraying” when a cell replicates. As a cell ages, its telomeres become shorter. Eventually, the telomeres become too short to allow cell replication, the cell stops dividing and will ultimately die - a normal biological process.  for an animation about telomeres click here
Telomere degradation can be controlled by low calorie diets, reducing oxidative stress, and getting optimal amounts of sleep.  For more on how to preserve telomere length click here.

Telomerase is an enzyme that helps protect telomeres:
Telomerase, also called telomere terminal transferase, is an enzyme made of protein and RNA subunits that elongates chromosomes by adding TTAGGG sequences to the end of existing chromosomes. Telomerase is found in fetal tissues, adult germ cells, and also tumor cells. Telomerase activity is regulated during development and has a very low, almost undetectable activity in somatic (body) cells. Because these somatic cells do not regularly use telomerase, they age. The result of aging cells is an aging body. If telomerase is activated in a cell, the cell will continue to grow and divide. This "immortal cell" theory is important in two areas of research: aging and cancer. 
Telomerase has been detected in human cancer cells and is found to be 10-20 times more active than in normal body cells. This provides a selective growth advantage to many types of tumors. If telomerase activity was to be turned off, then telomeres in cancer cells would shorten, just like they do in normal body cells. This would prevent the cancer cells from dividing uncontrollably in their early stages of development. In the event that a tumor has already thoroughly developed, it may be removed and anti-telomerase therapy could be administered to prevent relapse. In essence, preventing telomerase from performing its function would change cancer cells from "immortal" to "mortal".   To watch an animation of telomerase click here.
In the interview below stem cell researcher Dr. Taylor talks about Telomeres.  See the Radio Program  Stem Cells Untold Stories  that is interesting and exciting all by itself.  Now there is an affordable blood test to measure telomeres.   But wait....

Stem cells are even more fascinating and are another front in aging and cancer research.
Stem Cells are cells found in most, if not all, multi-cellular organisms. They are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types.
Dr. Taylor has gained renown for regrowing rat hearts.  Just to give you a little tidbit from the interview:  She tells the story of the research she did with a long-time meditator in the Tibetan buddhist tradition.
"...[Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard] and a number of his colleagues meditate, and as they meditate they measure differences in their brainwaves. Right? And I basically said I would predict that those very same things that when you meditate and you have positive brainwave changes would also have an effect on your stem cells. He very graciously, and this is an N of one, let us measure cells in his blood before and after meditation. And what we found was a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in blood. Largest increase I've ever seen after 15 minutes of meditation."
I found this absolutely stunning!  It says to me we are in control of far more than we think we are!  Not only with telomeres but now with stem cells! Intrigued by all this I dug a little deeper (as I do)  and  found a most interesting blog post by a man who cured himself of 4 bouts of bone cancer including having 2 stem cell transplants.  All this occurred in the early 1990's and he wrote this post in early 2009.   This man appears to be able to effect his stem cells with his practice and probably his telomeres too.  He writes:
"When I was diagnosed with Stage Four bone lymphoma cancer in 1991, I read everything I could about people who had survived supposedly hopeless cases of the deadly disease. One common thread ran through the survivor stories: People who had beaten aggressive, late-stage instances of the disease had found ways to use their minds to help their bodies heal. So I learned how to meditate, and how to use visualizations to help my immune system attack the cancer cells. And against all odds, I survived six months of an intense regime of chemotherapy and came out cancer free."  For the rest of his story click here.
The science of cancer and the experience of meditation, qi gong and yoga can have an amazing impact, far more than one would think. 
As Benjamin Franklin said,  "Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken

Medicines to Deter Some Cancers
 Are Not Taken
by Gina Kolata
New York Times - November 12, 2009 
Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored....................

Dr. Abrams responds:
 Hi Gina,
I am here in NYC becoming President of the Society for Integrative Oncology. I had just enough time to scan your front page article before heading to the NY Academy of Medicine for the meeting. And I was at the American Institute for Cancer Research Nutrition and Cancer meeting in DC last week. Not surprisingly I was disappointed with your article, especially as we try to move to a system of health care delivery that might promote health and well-being as opposed to disease management. Your observations that the only things that work to reduce cancer risk are pharmaceutical prescription drugs and that lifestyle modification is futile is a real blow to the attempt to have the American public become more responsible for their health. Studies of diet, and exercise as well, are much more difficult and problematic to conduct than a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention involving a swallowed pill! Nonetheless, to only highlight the negative when just last week the Journal of Clinical Oncology ran an article on how lifestyle (nutrition and physical activity) decrease the risk of second breast cancers. Meyerhardt from the Dana Farber has been very prolific writing articles which clearly demonstrate the detriment of the "Western" diet and the benefits of physical activity - especially in colon cancer!
Even though I disagree with your thrust, hopefully your article will stimulate the same sort of questioning that you aroused in me so that there may be a net benefit. To lull your readership into believing that what they eat or how much they move won't affect their cancer risk reduction is unfortunate! Especially at this critical juncture in our health care reform attempt.
We have disagreed in the past as well. I was just struck by the timing of your article which I will critique during my acceptance speech this afternnon!
Good to communicate again anyway!
With all due respect,
I remain,

Donald I. Abrams, MD
Chief, Hematology-Oncology
San Francisco General Hospital
Integrative Oncology

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Use of Chinese Herbs With Radiotherapy

By Alex Berks L. Ac. Dipl. Herbs, FABORM
Clinical Director of Chinese Medicine Oncology

Integrating Chinese herbal medicine with conventional radiotherapy can be of immense benefit to a cancer patient. In the scientific literature it is reported across many studies from China that the integration of both medicines is better than either one alone.

This article addresses the prescription of Chinese herbs for a radiation patient. Chinese Medicine includes acupuncture, qi gong, tai qi, massage and diet therapies, all of which are of great value to a cancer patient.

Radiation therapy can injure surrounding healthy tissue, damage fragile mucosal barriers in the lungs and intestines, injure salivary production, cause digestive problems, dryness, inflammation and even scorching depending on location, intensity and duration of the treatment. Radiotherapy can also injure the bone marrow. While the targeting of radiation therapy has vastly improved to protect surrounding tissue, radiation therapy is still a significant challenge.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective the heat from radiotherapy that is intense enough to destroy tissue generates a "toxic heat". Cancer is itself a toxin. Radiotherapy is a toxin to fight a toxin.

Herbs that rebalance the body can prevent side effects of radiotherapy, restore health and vitality, and prevent relapse and metastasis. Rebalancing is a concept of Chinese Medicine that is a fabulous complement to the cure seeking of Western Medicine.

Rebalancing against radiation toxicity is done along a continuum of signs and symptoms. For example, toxic heat depletes the moistening properties of the blood and injures the mechanisms of energy production. Then the body, in an effort to compensate for the heat, dryness and depletion of fluids, produces phlegm as a substitute lubricant. This phlegm, when combined with heat, can injure the elimination pathways in the bladder and large intestine, stagnate and deplete the blood and cause further weakness. At late stages the vital essence is injured and there is very poor energy production and compensation. Applying Chinese Medicine diagnostic principles and appropriate treatment at each stage is a way to prevent this degeneration and many side-effects.

Research has also shown that Chinese herbs improve the sensitivity of the tumor to radiotherapy.
A tumor's sensitivity to radiation is in part dependent on blood supply and oxygenation of the tissues. Herbs can improve both. It is reported that tumors have a ratio of anoxic cells which have poor radiation sensitivity. Radiation therapy may reach only about 1/3 of cells with a low oxygenic state. Low tumor infiltration by radiation is considered one of the factors causing cancer relapse.

Research studies done on single herbs, though not representative of how herbs are most beneficially applied, are illustrative of the efficacy and principles of multi-herb formulas. An example of this is a study done on a Liguistrazine extract of the common Chinese herb Chuan Xiong (Radix Liguistici Wallichi). This herb is known in the Chinese pharmocopeia as a blood activator. The results of this study showed that the rats responded to the herbal extract with increased microcirculation in caliber, flow speed, flow status and capillary count. It is not hard to see that a formula with this and other synergistic herbs could improve the microcirculation of peri-tumor tissue and the tumor body, increase blood perfusion in the tumor body, improve cell's anoxic state and could elevate the sensitivity for tumor tissue to radiation therapy. (1)

The following studies demonstrate the value of Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in conjuction with radiotherapy (RT) to improve survival rates, lessen the impact of depletion of white blood cells, and improve the ability to finish the full course of treatment.

This study from Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences included 197 nasopharyngeal cancer patients who were treated with Chinese herbs plus radiation therapy compared to radiotherapy alone. The combined therapy group had twice the number of patients survive to five or more years than the radiotherapy alone group. The tumor was killed in more patients in the combined therapy group and the remote metastatic rate was less in the combined group. These findings imply that Chinese herbal medicine could enhance the radiosensitivity of tumors. (2)

Survival Rate N =197

1 year
3 Years
5 years

Disappearance of the tumor

Cause of Death
Primary lesion relapse or metastatic lesions

In another study researching the efficacy of herbs to prevent and treat side effects of radiation therapy, 71 patients were in an active treatment group with herbs and radiation and the control group was given a placebo herbal formula plus radiation.
The results showed 84.5% were able to finish the full course of radiotherapy versus 63.3% in the control group. The type and staging of the cancer was not revealed.(3)

In another small study, white blood cell counts did not go as low in a combined treated group as they did with radiotherapy alone. One particular formula Fu Zheng Xiao Formula (FZZX), was shown to moderate T-lymphocyte subset. (4)

Another combined herb-radiation study was conducted with nasopharyngeal cancer patients who continued taking herbs for 6 months after the radiation was finished. The 5 year survival rate was 75%. The authors indicate that Chinese medicine combined with radiation improved the effectiveness of radiation therapy while minimizing its toxicity in both the short and long term. In this study there was no mention of a control group. (5)

Mice studies have also showed improved efficacy when radiation and herbs were combined both on white blood cell counts and survival rate. Interestingly, the survival rates were even higher in the mice that were given the herbal mixture 1 week before beginning treatment with radiation. (6)

Many studies, repeatedly show that Chinese herbal medicine formulas can be combined efficaciously and safely to improve life expectancy and prevent adverse side effects of radiation treatment. Herbs should be started 1 week before starting radiotherapy and continue for at least 6 months after treatment to achieve maximum benefit.

Please consult with a trained Chinese Medicine practitioner who is knowledgeable in the integrative support of cancer recovery.


2. Donald Abrams, Andrew Weil, Integrative Oncology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) chapter 13 p. 269.

3. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 83.

4. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 83.

5. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 85.

6. Zhang Dai-Zhao p. 86.