Scientists studying a four-herb combination discovered some 1,800 years ago by Chinese herbalists have found that the substance enhances the effectiveness of chemotherapy in patients with colon cancer.
The mixture, known in China as huang qin tang, has been shown in early trials to be effective at reducing some side effects of chemotherapy, including diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The herbs also seem to bolster colon-cancer treatment: Tests on animals with tumors have shown that administering the herbs along with chemotherapy drugs restored intestinal cells faster than when chemo was used alone.
The herb combination, dubbed PHY906 by scientists, is a rare example of a plant-based product used in traditional folk medicine that could potentially jump the hurdle into mainstream American therapy. A scientific team led by Yung-Chi Cheng, an oncology researcher at Yale University, and funded in part by the National Cancer Institute, is planning to begin Phase II clinical trials to study PHY906′s effectiveness in people with colon cancer.
Many conventional medications are derived from individual chemical agents originally found in plants. In the case of huang qin tang, however, scientists so far have identified 62 active chemicals in the four-herb combination that apparently need to work together to be effective.