Herbs for Cancer: Immune Modulators

By | 2011-06-11

Most conventional chemotherapeutic agents are immunosuppressant and cytotoxic in nature, and they exert a variety of adverse effects that are particularly evident in cancer chemotherapy. Botanically based immunomodulators and immune stimulators are employed as supportive or adjuvant therapy to overcome the adverse effects of these agents and to restore normal health. Many of these herbs also have anticancer activity. Immune-modulating herbs can also be employed when chemotherapy is not used.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis): Controlled, open-label clinical studies have found that Cordyceps appeared to restore immune cell function in patients with advanced cancer who were given conventional cancer therapies. Of 59 patients with advanced lung cancer, 95% were able to complete chemotherapy and radiotherapy with the use of Cordyceps compared with 64% of controls. More than 85% of Cordyceps-treated patients showed more normal blood cell counts versus 59% of controls. A study in patients with various types of tumors found that a cultured mycelium extract of Cordyceps (6g/d for over 2 months) improved subjective symptoms in most patients. White blood cell counts were maintained at <3000/mm3, and tumor size was significantly reduced in approximately half of patients.

Echinacea (Echinacea Purpurea): Mice who received dietary Echinacea daily throughout life, from youth until late middle age, demonstrated significant longevity/survival differences, as well as differences in various populations of immune/hematopoietic cells. Key immune cells, acting as the first line of defense against developing neoplasms and natural killer (NK) cells, were significantly elevated in absolute number in their bone marrow production site, as well as in the spleen. Cells of the myeloid/granulocyte lineages remained at control levels in the bone marrow and the spleen in Echinacea-consuming mice. Thus, it appears that regular intake of Echinacea may indeed be beneficial or prophylactic because it maintains elevated levels of NK cells, which are elements in immunosurveillance against spontaneously developing tumors.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): The efficacy of this herb in enhancing quality of life and reducing the toxicity of chemotherapy in human patients with malignant tumors was investigated. Astragalus (by injection) supplemented by chemotherapy was noted to inhibit the development of tumors, decrease the toxic or adverse effects of chemotherapy, elevate immune function, and improve quality of life in treated patients.

Ashwagandha (Wlthania Somnifera): This herb demonstrates antitumor properties in mice and protects against induced carcinogenic effects. It also reverses the adverse effects of a carcinogen (urethane) on total leukocyte count, lymphocyte count, body weight, and mortality. Significant increases in hemoglobin; red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelet count; and body weight were observed in cyclophosphamide-, azathioprine-, and prednisolone-treated mice that were given Withania versus controls.

Other herbs

• Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosis)

• Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa)

• Pau d’arco (Tabebuia avellanedae)

• Shitake and Reishi mushrooms