Q&A: Health Professionals Answer Readers’ Questions

Herbal medicine may offer some hope to cancer patients.
–Chanchal Cabrera, ­herbalist

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields will answer selected reader questions about using medicinal herbs. Herbalist Chanchal Cabrera and medical doctor D. Paul Barney responded for this issue.

Cancer Support

Q. My father-in-law has cancer of the gallbladder and now has an ulcer. He went through chemotherapy and was taking a radiation medicine. This seemed to help a bit, but now he is interested in Chinese medicine, especially mushrooms. I would like to know what other herbs can help fight this type of cancer. The doctors aren’t really into herbal treatment. I read your article “Aging healthfully” (Sep­tember/October 1997, page 40) and thought I should write you. Also, do you know of any correspondence school from which I could take a course in herbology, both in growing and medicine use?
M. B.
Aomori, Japan

A.Herbal medicine may offer some hope to cancer patients, especially when combined with strict dietary therapy and a holistic approach. Because of the severe nature of the disease, these treatments are best done under the supervision of a qualified and experienced health professional.

The Gerson Institute, PO Box 430, Bonita, California 92002, offers a detailed video and workbook to guide you through a detoxification and cleansing program. Because you live in Japan, I would suggest that you seek out a practitioner of traditional Japanese kampo medicine to assist and guide you.

For information on education in herbal medicine, I would suggest that you write to the American Herbalists Guild, PO Box 746555 Arvada, CO 80006, and request a copy of the Herbal Education Directory, which lists schools and the various programs they offer.

–Chanchal Cabrera, herbalist

A.When treating cancer, herbs that stimulate the immune system are important, including the adaptogenic mushrooms reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), and maitake (Grifola frondosa)–they can be used in combination or by themselves. If used by themselves, I would use a combination of maitake whole mushroom as well as a D-fraction maitake extract.

Other herbs that I would use are astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), pau d’arco (Tabebuia impetiginosa), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and hoelen (Poria cocos). Also, take a good multivitamin with 5,000 to 8,000 mg of vitamin C a day and 400 mcg [micrograms] of selenium a day. Use ginger for any nausea and fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum) to help with recovery.

–D. Paul Barney, M.D.

Editor’s note: For more information about medicinal mushrooms, see Christopher Hobbs’s Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, & Culture (Botanica Press, 1995). To order a copy, call 888-844-3727.

Digestion Pains

Q.I have been on Elavil (50 mg per night) for almost three years because of hyperperistalsis [excessive contractions of the intestinal muscles]. I generally have only a few good days a month. The rest of the time I have difficulty digesting foods and especially have loose stools, gas, and bloating whenever my hormones are active (from ten days before my period, throughout, and then a few days’ respite, until I start to ovulate). I’ve had pelvic exams, a laparoscopy for endometriosis, a check for para­sites, and tests for allergies and food sensitivity. Is there an herbal remedy to replace the Elavil I take to slow down my intestinal contractions?
H. B.
Belle Plaine, Minnesota

A.As I read about your particular problem, I felt that this problem could be approached in two ways. The first would be to improve intestinal health by taking a course of probiotics, acido­philous, and bifidus along with herbs such as fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), aloe (Aloe vera) juice or powder, Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), marshmallow, licorice root, and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Many of these herbs can be found in a single herbal blend.

Because the symptoms are associated with the time when your hormones are most active, the diagnosis of endometriosis also certainly comes to mind. Consider addressing hormonal imbalance by ­taking such herbs as ­chasteberry (Vitex agnus-­castus), black cohosh (Cimici- fuga racemosa), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), and black haw (Vibur­num prunifol­ium, also called crampbark). Cruciferous vegetables also contain a substance called indole-3-carbinol, which helps regulate the effect of estrogen, so I recommend eating more cruciferous vegetables or taking this product in a capsule.

Anumber of problems can cause this condition, including food allergies, stress, parasites, candida, celiac disease, auto-immunity, and endometriosis. The medical tests for all of these conditions are ­notoriously unreliable, and often no clear diagnosis is reached. Hyper­peristalsis is often treated as a nervous dysfunction, and antidepressants such as Elavil are used to try to relax the mind.

If this is not proving effective, then I would suggest a complete detoxification program, including juice fasting, alterative (or blood-cleansing) herbs, colonics, castor oil packs over the abdomen and liver, skin brushing, and hydrotherapy. All wheat and other foods containing gluten (oats, rye, barley) should be strictly avoided, as should all dairy products. Your diet should be simple and wholesome, with lots of fresh juices, raw veggies, and fruit.

The question is, do we need to take something that increases our energy level? Certainly times of less energy may be necessary for recuperation and introspection.

–D. Paul Barney, M.D.

A.Herbs I recommend include:

• Astringents, such as tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla), avens (Geum maculatum), cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), and leaves of the rasp­berry (Rubus idaeus)

• Soothing demulcents, such as marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), and plantain (Plantago spp.)

• Anti-inflammatories, such as licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)

• Bitter nervines, such as ­vervain (Verbena officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita), and hops (Humulus lupulus).

You might also try the supplement N-acetyl glucosamine, which helps strengthen the gut lining. For more guidance and dosages, talk to your health-care provider.

–Chanchal Cabrera, herbalist


Q.I recently purchased a product containing ma huang (165 mg per tablet), which I have read has a connection with ephedrine. Should I continue to take this? How much is too much? I have stopped taking it, but when I did take it I got an energy boost without noticeable side effects. The product also contains spirulina (80 mg), bee pollen (30 mg), vitamin C (24 mg), and other vitamins and minerals.

I have also been using another product; each tablet contains a 1,200 mg blend of Siberian ginseng, bee pollen, royal jelly, gotu kola, fo-ti, inosin, ginger, pepsin, spirulina, cinnamon, astragalus, yellow dock, echinacea, wheat grass, coenzyme Q10, guarana, licorice, sikadeer antler, octocosanol, schisandra, and haw­thorn berry in a base containing medium-chain trigly­cerides. This combination definitely lives up to its claim for an energy boost.

What are these ingredients? Is it okay to take either of these products?
N. D.
North Easton, Massachusetts

A.If you are taking 165 mg of ma huang, the Chinese name for ephedra (Ephedra sinica), as well as several other stimulants regularly, then it is no wonder you are getting quite a kick! I would suggest you stop this immediately and consult a qualified natural health practitioner to find other ways to support your overall health.

Many different products may be used to enhance energy, and most are entirely safe, including spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) and other chlorophyll products, bee pollen, ginger (Zingiber officinale), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). A few others should be used with caution, including ephedra, guarana (Paullinia cupana), kola nut (Cola nitida), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and ginseng because they may cause problems.

Ephedra is certainly the most worrisome of the commonly available energy tonics. Its use produces adrenaline, which speeds up the heart, deepens breathing, and speeds up the brain and mental alertness. Operating in this state for prolonged periods leads to adrenal gland exhaustion and chronic immune dysfunction.

The whole plant has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries as a bronchodilator and decongestant. But it is traditionally prescribed for short durations and with other herbs to regulate the effects.

In June, the FDA issued new regulations concerning the over-the-counter sales of ephedra and its alkaloids, forbidding more than 8 mg of alkaloids per dose and requiring health warnings. Ephedra and its alkaloids may no longer be combined with other herbs having a caffeine-like action (kola nut, guarana).

–Chanchal Cabrera, herbalist

A.It should be noted that both of the supplement combinations you have described contain central nervous system stimulants. The first combination contains ephedrine in the form of ma huang. The second combination contains guarana, which contains caffeine. These certainly help increase energy, if only temporarily.

The question is, do we need to take something that ­increases our energy level? Certainly times of less energy may be necessary for recuperation and introspection. But I think that either of these products could be taken occasionally for short periods of time.

As far as the other ingredients, gotu kola is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a long time to enhance central nervous system functions such as memory and mental stamina. Fo-ti (Poly­gonum multiflorum) is an herb that was originally used in China and is considered a very good general tonic. Inosin is a nucleotide used as a building block in the body. Pepsin is an enzyme which helps digest food. Guarana is an herb that contains, as mentioned before, caffeine. Deer antlers are felt to be hormonally active and are used in many Chinese formulas to improve both sexual health and overall health. Octocosanol is a fatty alcohol found in spinach and wheat germ that is purported to increase athletic performance and endurance. Wheat grass is a very good source of general nutrients and helps immune ­system function. Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) is used as a blood purifier, for skin problems, as a laxative, and for increasing bile production, which is why it is useful as an adjunct to detoxification.

–D. Paul Barney, M.D.

Chanchal Cabrera, an herbalist and clinical aromatherapist, has been a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 1987. She is associate editor of Medical Herbalism newsletter and is a member of the advisory board in botanical medicine for Bastyr University in Seattle.

D. Paul Barney is a family practice and emergency-room physician in Layton, Utah. He is an adjunct professor at Weber State University and author of Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine (Woodland Publishing, 1996).

Send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A”, Herb Companion Press, 201 East Fourth Street, Loveland, CO 80537-5655, or email H4H@iwp.ccmail.compuserve.com. Please provide your name and address, including your city.

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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