One-third of U.S. adults use some form of alternative medicine

More than one-third of U.S. adults use some form of alternative medicine such as herbal supplements and other therapies, showed in a nationwide survey by NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine published in May 2004.

While it might be relatively new in Western countries, herbal medicine, also know as Chinese medicine in China, has long been used for many centuries as a major form of medicine for disease treatment in China and other Asian countries. However, the mechanisms of how exactly herbal medicine fighting against diseases and its pharmacological/immunologic effect are not fully and well understood.

A team of researchers in University of Hong Kong has been studying a kind of herbal medicine in gastric cancer with very low systemic toxicity. This herbal medicine, called CKBM, is a combination of herbs and yeasts including Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra chinensis), Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Hawthorn (Fructus Crataegi), Jujube (Ziziphus jujube), Soybean (Glycine Max) and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast). The herbal medicine has demonstrated being capable of improving immune responsiveness through the induction of cytokine mediators, such as TNF-a and IL-6. In this study, the researchers investigated the effect of CKBM on gastric cancer growth in nude mice using a human xenograft model. Gastric cancer tissues (1.5 mm3) were implanted subcutaneously into the right dorsal area of mice. Ten days after implantation, animals were randomized into treatment groups fed with various doses of CKBM intragastrically daily for 14 and 28 days and untreated group.

Results showed that CKBM significantly inhibited the growth of gastric tumor in nude mice. The efficacy of CKBM exhibited a dose-dependent manner in this ex-vivo model during the 28-day experimental period and exerted the inhibitory action as early as 21 days after drug treatment. The effective doses of CKBM were found to be 0.4 and 0.8 ml/mouse, which significantly reduced the number of PCNA-positive cells and increased the apoptotic cells in the tumor tissues. In contrast, CKBM did not affect angiogenesis at the time when it inhibited tumor growth, although it increased with time along with tumor development in the control group. These findings implicated that CKBM suppressed gastric cancer growth specifically through the reduction of cell proliferation and promotion of apoptosis in this model, and provides future potential targets of this drug candidate on cancer therapy. Further clinical trials in humans are needed to examine the pharmacokinetics and the therapeutic action of CKBM on cancer patients.

On other fronts, a group of researchers headed by Dr Luis Vitetta, Director of Research at Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, and Professor Avni Sali in Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia is currently conducting a clinical trial to evaluate the effect of CKBM in participants with HIV/AIDS. CKBM is safe in the sense that all constituents of the herbal supplement are currently available as over the counter herbal preparations in Australia.

The paper was published in International Journal of Medical Sciences, 2004: 1(3): 137-145. Full paper is available for download in http://www.medsci.org/v1/i3/cho.pdf.

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