I purchased some Shan Dou Gen for my father
who has leukemia. He has exhausted all forms of conventional
treatment and is willing to try a new approach at prolonging
his life. Would it be harmful for him to take approximately
1 scoop in boiling water per day? I think this dose is approximately
1/2 gram. I saw some side effects listed on an internet
web site, and do not want to cause him any more harm. I
also purchased some Reishi Mushroom capsules for him to
take. What is your opinion on his taking these two alternative
forms of treatment?
Let me first say that if your father really wants to commit to
a different treatment, you should get him to a licensed acupuncturist
who is trained and qualified to treat with chinese herbs. Just
buying some herbs one at a time without any education is not exactly
appropriate to treating such a serious disease as leukemia.
If it were a cold or something minor I wouldn't be so bold in
saying this- but it's cancer... no one without professional training
should take something like that on.
The Materia Medica on Shan Dou Gen
I am curious - where did you get information that those two herbs
would help him? You may have gotten the info on shan dou gen from
the acupuncture.com article that basically quotes the materia
medica (Bensky & Barolet).
This materia medica does say that shan dou gen has been used
to treat acute lymphocytic or granuloctic leukemia- but it also
says that its effectiveness is not certain. It's also not clear
at what dosage it would become toxic.
Usually in chinese medicine we don't do high doses of just one
herb- we moderate harsh herbs with other herbs within an herbal
You may be on the right track- though I must say with the qualifications
that you should see a licensed herbalist AND that you know you
are in a gray no-man's land (treating a life-threatening disease
with unproven agents)...
Research on Shan Dou Gen and Cancer
Here are some statements from studies I found on medline:
"We purified the compound that induced apoptosis in human
leukemia cells and identified it as sophoranone... Our results
indicate that sophoranone might be a unique apoptosis-inducing
anticancer agent that targets mitochondria." Int J Cancer
2002 Jun 20;99(6):879-90
"Shan-dou-gen is the dried roots of Sophora subprostata
(Leguminosae) and a commonly used Chinese herbal drug in Taiwan.
It possesses antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic effects
and is used to treat sore throat and acute pharyngolaryngeal infections."
J Pharm Biomed Anal 2002 Jun 1;28(5):1005-10
Research on Reishi and Cancer
Now for the Reishi...
"A series of experiments including cell culture and benzidine
staining test were undertaken to investigate the effects of Ganoderma
lucidum(Leyss ex Fr) Karst Compound(GLC) on the proliferation
and differentiation of K562 leukemic cells... It is concluded
that GLC may be a good medicine for leukemia therapy." Hunan
Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 1999;24(6):521-4. Chinese.
"Both the lipids extracted from the germinating spores and
the SBGS of G. lucidum had remarkable antitumor effects in a dose-dependent
manner, and could significantly inhibit three tumors with an inhibition
of 80-90%." Cancer Lett 2002 Aug 28;182(2):155-61
"stimulating the expression of cytokines, especially IL-1,
IL-2 and INF-gamma." Bioorg Med Chem 2002 Apr;10(4):1057-62
"The effects of extracts from Ganoderma lucidum spores on
the growth of human cervix uteri tumor HeLa cells as well as on
the cell cycle and intracellular calcium level were investigated...
(1) the breaking of G. lucidum spores improves the release of
cytotoxic activity and (2) the effective extract might influence
the cell cycle and cellular signal transduction by altering the
calcium transport system." So this has implications for the
preparation of the reishi you take and its effects. Cell Biol
These were all in-vitro studies, not in live animals, and not
on real human people with leukemia... so although it is encouraging,
it is not conclusive.
Chinese Herbs for Pharmacologic vs. Traditional Functions
I must also note that the use of chinese herbs for their pharmacologic
properties is a more biomedical approach than a traditional chinese
herbal medicine one. Some modern practitioners do both- they incorporate
herbs with specific proven biomedical functions into formulas
that fit the chinese medical diagnosis for the individual. This
ensures better digestion and prevents side effects.
Dosage of the Herbs
The final issue is dosage- none of the studies were clear about
how much of either herb would lead to the results you're seeking.
Nor did they indicate how much would be toxic or produce dangerous
In any case, 1g per day is a very low dose. We prescribe powdered
(granular) herbal formulas all the time and recommend from 3-5g
per day of the formula. So if the total he is taking of both herbs
doesn't exceed that, you are well within convention.
But again, I urge you to find a qualified chinese acupuncturist/herbalist
to guide the two of you one-on-one (one-on-two) through this maze
of herbs... and to watch out for drug-herb interactions, etc.
Of course, you need to keep seeing an MD who can monitor him with
blood tests, etc.
Here's a link to help you find
a chinese medical practitioner.
From Medline, other herbs with effects on leukemia
- Bai zhu- ovate atractylodes
Planta Med. 2002 Mar;68(3):204-8.
- Huang bai
Prostate. 2001 Dec 1;49(4):285-92. J Infect Dis. 1992 Mar;165(3):433-7.
- Artemisia asiatica
Mutat Res 2001 Sep 20;496(1-2):191-8
- Qing hao
Int J Oncol 2001 Apr;18(4):767-73 Sci Sin [B] 1984 Apr;27(4):398-406
- Tripterygium wilfordii hook f
Blood 2000 Jan 15;95(2):705-10
- Dan shen
J Ethnopharmacol 1999 Dec 15;68(1-3):121-7
- Dong chong xia cao (cordyceps sinensis)
Life Sci 1997;60(25):2349-59
- Tripterospermum lanceolatum (Hyata)
Antiviral Res. 1992 Aug;19(2):119-27.
- Viscum alniformosanae
Am J Chin Med. 1991;19(1):33-9.
Am J Chin Med. 1992;20(3-4):307-12.
I wish you all the best!
My father lives in a rural area of West Virginia. He does not
have access to an acupucturist.
I have been doing research on the internet and found the information
on Shan Dou Gen on Oncolink. I contacted an Acupuncture &
Herb Center and spoke with them about his illness. I requested
the purchase of Shan Dou Gen. They recommended the Reishi Mushroom.
They also informed me that Chinese Medicine involves a combination
of herbs - formulas, but were not reluctant to give me what I
requested. My father has AML, was diagnosed in 1998, and is currently
64 yrs. of age. He has undergone extensive chemotherapy on several
occasions. He also had a stem cell transplant this year which
proved ineffective. He has had two blood transfusions over the
past two months, because his red blood cell count is not building
on its own. He is weak, but has a good appetite, and tries to
get some form of exercise on a daily basis. He has blood work
done twice per week and sees his oncologist every month.
At his last visit, my father took a list of the supplements
he has been taking to inform his oncologist. Upon review of the
list, the oncologist told my father to take whatever natural herbs
he wished. He also suggested my father start taking Ginseng. The
list my father gave the oncologist included: IP6, Bee Pollen,
COQ10, Essiac Tea. Since that appointment, my father has added
a multi-vitamin, Ginseng, Shan Dou Gen, and Reishi Mushroom.
I informed my father of the information I found and also the
toxicity of Shan Dou Gen. After sending you an e-mail, I contacted
the center where I had made the puchase and was told it would
not be harmful at the dose they recommended. I also contacted
a pharmacist whose main concern was not the toxicity of Shan Dou
Gen at this dose, but the effects all the above would have on
my father's liver and kidneys, which may already be compromised.
I truly appreciate your response and expertise on the matter.
I don't believe that any of these herbs or supplements is a magic
bullet, but am always hopeful that one or more will help him without
causing harm. I will research the additional herbs you mentioned,
and will be in touch. I am very grateful for your help.
Thanks for the follow-up- sometimes people "Q" and
I "A" and I never hear anything from them again!
The Misinformed Scared Pharmacist
As for your pharmacist- I think a lot of people got the wrong
idea about chinese herbs when we had this aristolochia scare-
some supplement manufacturers (the kind who care more about profit
than throughness and safety) used the wrong herbs... they used
a different plant (the aristolochia kind) which caused kidney
failure in a number of people.
"the diet capsules were meant to include the herb Stephania
tetrandra (called fangji in Chinese) but instead were made with
Aristolochia fangchi (fangchi in Chinese)" -
from WebMD (reference below)
No chinese herbalist I know ever uses or would use that aristolochia
herb. And it would be wrong to attribute this error to chinese
herbs in general - the failure was on the part of a company which
makes diet supplements. Some of these companies have no ethics
The commonly used chinese herbs are all much safer than this.
I believe some people who are opposed to all alternative medicine
seized upon this and used it dishonestly to scare consumers. Others,
like your pharmacist, simply have not been fully informed.
But They Don't Tell You About...
By the way, over the counter acetominophin (tylenol) is the most
common cause liver failure in hospitals... and that's an OTC med!
So we can't generalize that all chinese herbs are safe or unsafe,
nor can we say that all OTC's or prescription drugs are safe or
unsafe. It depends upon the specific medication and the patient.
All the best!
References (Except for the single herb list above)
- Bensky & Barolet. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica.
Eastland Press, 1993
- Int J Cancer 2002 Jun 20;99(6):879-90
- J Pharm Biomed Anal 2002 Jun 1;28(5):1005-10
- Hunan Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 1999;24(6):521-4. Chinese.
- Cancer Lett 2002 Aug 28;182(2):155-61
- Bioorg Med Chem 2002 Apr;10(4):1057-62
- Cell Biol Toxicol 2000;16(3):201-6
- Crit Care 2002 Apr;6(2):108-10
- Postgrad Med 1999 Apr;105(4):81-4, 87, 90
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