Traditional Chinese medicine may soon be taking another bow to rounds of applause from Western medical practitioners.
This is because another one of China’s ancient natural therapies is now gaining respect as a possible treatment for liver cancer – even cases once thought hopeless.
New studies suggest berbamine, a nutrient from the barberry plant, can help block the growth of liver cancer cells. Let’s take a look at the evidence. . .
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Wendong Huang, Ph.D., associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, led a team that published study findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
The researchers discovered that berbamine and one of its derivatives, called bbd24, halted cancer cell growth—and even caused the cells to self-destruct.
An ordinary plant with extraordinary powers
There’s nothing all that unusual about the barberry shrub. It has gray, thorny branches that can grow nearly 9 feet tall. The initial bloom from April to June produces yellow flowers, which become dark, red berries in the fall.
Bark, berries and roots have been used for medicinal purposes for over 2500 years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. For example, Indian medicine has made use of the plant’s phenomenal healing properties to:
The plant is widely used in Iran to treat gallbladder disease and heartburn. Now the City of Hope’s research may add ‘liver cancer killer’ to the impressive list of barberry’s health benefits.
Berbamine gets to the root of the problem!
Dr. Huang and his colleagues were thrilled to find that berbamine and its compounds — phytochemicals extracted from the barberry plant — killed liver cancer cells at doses safe for human consumption. But they were stunned to discover that these compounds also interfered with the malignant stem cells that give rise to liver cancer.
Scientists believe these cancer stem cells are the reason tumors reoccur after surgery and other treatments. They also believe the stem cells are the source of chemotherapy-resistant liver cancers (also called multi-drug-resistant or MDR cancers.)
Essentially, berbamine appears to go straight to the root cause of the cancer—which is pretty impressive considering how difficult it can be to treat this deadly disease.
In an article on his team’s liver cancer study, which was published on the City of Hope hospital website, Wendong Huang and the researchers are quoted as saying they believe berbamine and its derivatives have great potential for treating patients with advanced liver disease.
Based on other evidence, it seems that berbamine has excellent potential for treating other types of cancer as well. To date, it has mostly been used in Asia. Patients in Europe and North America may find it hard to reap the benefits of this discovery for the time being.
Berbamine should not be confused with berberine, which is a similar chemical compound – also found in the barberry plant. Berberine also has anti-cancer properties, and can easily be purchased as an over-the-counter supplement from many US online retailers.
The ins and outs of liver cancer
According to WebMD, primary liver cancer is also called hepatocellular carcinoma, a form which begins in the main type of liver cell (hepatocyte). Other types of cells in the liver can develop cancer, although these cancers are less common.
Primary liver cancer can occur in livers damaged by:
Liver cancer may also be linked to obesity and fatty liver disease. But most cases of liver cancer actually originate in other parts of the body and reach the liver by metastasis.
This can happen because the liver constantly filters blood that circulates throughout the body. This makes the organ easy prey for cancer cells traveling in your bloodstream.
Several types of tumors can form in the liver because it’s made up of several different types of cells. These tumors have different causes and must be treated differently. A patient’s prospects for health or recovery depend on the type of tumor he or she has.
Some common types of benign tumors are:
Because these tumors are non-cancerous, they are not treated as cancer. But they may be removed surgically if they cause pain or bleeding.
The two primary types of cancerous liver tumors are called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma. You can guess that the main treatment options are the slash, burn and poison remedies typical of mainstream oncology.
But the establishment is proud of some of its research efforts in liver cancer treatment. Some scientists believe that hepatitis vaccines could help prevent about half of liver cancer cases worldwide. People infected with hepatitis are at very high risk for liver cancer.
Most cases of hepatitis B and C come from contaminated blood products, sharing of needles among intravenous drug users, or unprotected sex. By using ordinary good sense about these activities you can largely avoid the risk of primary liver cancer (although not the secondary kind that is spread by metastasis). There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, and it’s probably a good idea for people who are at risk.
In addition, the American Cancer Society reports that several new blood tests are being investigated to see if they can detect liver cancer sooner than ultrasound and the current alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) tests used as a tumor marker to detect cancers of the liver, testes and ovaries.
While we applaud the efforts to research more effective prevention, detection and treatment strategies—could it be possible that Mother Nature has made a liver cancer CURE available for more than 2,500 years?
Lee Euler, Publisher