An herb that has centuries of use in Chinese medicine has finally caught the eye of modern Western medical practitioners.
Now, even American scientists believe that plant pigments known as flavonoids—including one called baicalein found in the Chinese herb— may play an important role in delivering a death blow to cancer cells.
But the way baicalein fights cancer is a shocking surprise: Even though it’s an antioxidant, it damages DNA. Keep reading and I’ll fill you in. . .
Continued below. . .
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Chinese culture has a long history with the plant known as Chinese skullcap (Sculletaria baicalensis), including its use for:
- Killing bacterial infections…
- Reducing inflammation…
- Serving as a diuretic…
- Shrinking tumors…
- Treating hepatitis…
- And much more!
Now recent clinical studies indicate this herb from the mint family may deserve top honors as a cancer killer. But it kills cancer cells in a way scientists didn’t expect.
According to findings published March 19, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers were surprised to find that some plant antioxidants actually damage cell DNA rather than protect it.
One of the antioxidants that has this weird and surprising effect is baicalein from Chinese skullcap. Resveratrol, the “red wine antioxidant,” was another.
Damaging DNA is the opposite of how scientists think antioxidants generally work. It’s a shocker — but don’t toss your antioxidants yet.
It is this ability that may make baicalein a natural treatment for cancer. Meanwhile, another research group already has the jump on the NIH when it comes to proving baicalein is a cancer killer.
In 2011, a group of researchers at the City of Hope cancer research center in California stumbled on baicalein as a possible cancer killer. Here’s what happened…
A happy accident!
A City of Hope research team was screening several natural extracts in search of those that might work well with the protein called interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1).
This protein is known to play a role in boosting your immune response… regulating cell apoptosis (natural cell death)… and suppressing tumor growth. The scientists wanted to enhance IRF-1’s natural ability to treat cancer cells and possibly even prevent the disease altogether.
According to findings published August 4 online in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutic, the researchers found that of all the natural compounds they tested— baicalein came out head and shoulders above the other extracts when it came to boosting IRF-1 activity.
They used the plant extract to perform lab tests on stomach cancer and breast cancer cells and found that baicalein stopped cancer cell growth dead in its tracks! They also found that it suppressed breast tumors in mice, with no toxic side effects.
According to a City of Hope statement, many other researchers have reported baicalein’s positive effects on pancreatic, colon and lung cancer cells. And that’s just in the past year!
With that background, let’s take a closer look at the NIH study that showed baicalein wrecks DNA!
Hold on… I thought antioxidants were harmless!
Don’t swear off your fruits and vegetables just yet! Antioxidants ARE good for you. As their name suggests, these nutrients can prevent or slow the rate of oxidative damage to your body.
When your cells use oxygen, one byproduct they generate is free radicals. These unstable oxygen molecules scavenge the body and steal parts from other cells to become more stable.
Cells with stolen parts become unstable free radicals that set off a chain reaction.
Free radical cell damage is believed to be a main cause of many common illnesses associated with aging, including diabetes… heart disease…. arthritis. . .and cancer…
But antioxidants like vitamins C and E, selenium, and CoQ10 help fight free radicals—and slow down cell destruction—by donating oxygen to stabilize free radicals.
They may also boost your immune system and lower your risk of experiencing infections and abnormal cell growth.
So the finding that baicalein and other antioxidants cause DNA cell damage may seem contradictory at first glance. But not when you probe further…
Mixed study results may be a boon for
natural cancer treatment!
Kyungjae Myung, Ph.D., a senior investigator in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), was a lead study author for this investigation. Myung’s lab studies how enzymes repair cell DNA.
Scientists know that when DNA repair systems malfunction, various diseases result, including cancer. Dr. Myung’s research team had two principal goals for this study, namely:
- To identify chemicals that damage DNA, and
- To use the chemicals to study cell repair mechanisms.
The NHGRI team used lab cells grown from human kidneys to develop a test to demonstrate when a chemical causes DNA damage. The test would show fairly quickly which chemicals damage cell DNA.
To determine which chemicals to study, a multi-agency initiative called Tox21 amassed a collection of about 2,000 compounds to test.
The researchers were surprised to find that 22 antioxidants caused DNA damage!
What’s more, three of the antioxidants they identified—baicalein, genistein and reseveratrol—are in use right now or are being studied for their anti-aging and disease fighting attributes!
But the researchers were more encouraged by the fact that these compounds did not cause gene mutations—unlike standard chemotherapy drugs.
In a statement from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr. Myung explained that “standard chemotherapy mutates the tumor’s DNA… sometimes allowing it to escape the toxic treatment intended to kill it. This leads to multidrug resistance in some cancer patients’ disease.”
Because the antioxidants don’t cause these gene mutations, doctors think they may be useful in treating such multi-drug resistant cancers.
The investigators are cautious about the study results. They emphasized that the findings occurred only in lab-grown cells and they don’t yet know the impact on humans.
But the study from City of Hope cancer center suggests there IS strong evidence that baicalein/Chinese skullcap may be ready for primetime.
Baicalein shows much promise as part of Mother Nature’s ‘chemotherapy.’ But it isn’t the only plant compound that’s emerging as a kick-butt cancer killer. We’ll talk about some others in the next issue!
Lee Euler, Publisher