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Leukaemia - Natural Remedies for a Grandchild's Leukemia?

Natural Remedies for a Grandchild's Leukemia?

About Dr. Kathi J. Kemper The Holistic pediatrician Archive


Q: My granddaughter just had a bone marrow transplant for leukemia that hadbeen treated but came back. She's been through so much harsh chemotherapy, and I'd really like to help her with some natural remedies. I heard that there are a couple of herbal remedies that are very effective for adults with cancer - cat's claw and Essiac. Are these remedies safe for children


A: The successful treatment of childhood leukemia is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. Whereas leukemia used to kill almost every child it touched, cure rates are now over 70 percent. There has been a price to pay for this success - not only the tremendous financial cost of treatments, but also the toxicity of the therapies themselves and the emotional suffering that families face watching their children struggle with the disease and its cure. Everyone would like to find a kinder, gentler, more natural approach to this deadly disease. Families whose children suffer from the most severe and resistant forms of cancer are the most desperate to find something, anything that will help.


The two remedies you mention, cat's claw and Essiac, are among the most common herbal remedies touted as cancer cures. Unfortunately, the evidence is far from firm.


cat's claw refers to a group of South American vines. They grow up to 100 feet long, hanging onto their high perches with hooks or claws. The roots and their bark are the parts used medicinally. peruvian shamans used cat's claw for many different conditions - arthritis, ulcers, diabetes, contraception and cancer. It is not traditionally given to young children.


There are many different South American plants that go by the name cat's claw. Only highly trained medicine men can reliably distinguish between the kind that is useful for cancer and a very similar species that is used to treat wounds and stomach upset, as well as being used as a sedative. Asian products marketed as cat's claw contain yet another species that lowers blood pressure and lowers the risk of seizures. products that are exported to America or Europe run a high risk of being contaminated with similar species. Since all of these species have powerful biological effects, it's very important that the buyer beware of possible contamination and misidentification.


Even if you get the right species, you still can't be sure that the plant was harvested at the right time for optimum effectiveness. The amount of active ingredients can vary by 10 to 40 times depending on the growing conditions, the season in which it's harvested, the way it's processed and the conditions under which it's stored.


Studies in test tubes and in animals suggest that at its best, cat's claw can kill cancer cells and stimulate white blood cells to function more aggressively. peruvian doctors report that cat's claw has helped many different kinds of cancer patients. However, there are no studies evaluating cat's claw in children with leukemia. There are no studies comparing it with standard chemotherapy, and there are no studies evaluating its toxicity (side effects) in children, particularly those whose systems have already been weakened by cancer and chemotherapy. One case has been reported of an adult woman who developed severe kidney failure after taking cat's claw. This is not a risk you want to take lightly. Until such studies have been done, and until the FDA starts providing better consumer protection against misidentified and contaminated herbal products, I do not recommend that you give your granddaughter cat's claw.


But what about Essiac Essiac is the name of an herbal mixture promoted by a Canadian nurse, Renee Caisse, starting in the 1920s. Essiac is simply Caisse's name spelled backward. Caisse was given the recipe by an Ojibwa medicine man whose herbal formula had apparently cured a woman of breast cancer. Caisse proceeded to treat thousands of desperate cancer patients over the next 60 years, many of whom claimed to be cured by the remedy.


Essiac typically contains four herbs: sorrel leaves, and the root of medicinal (not garden) rhubarb. Until 1987, it was made in home workshops by Caisse and her colleagues. Since then, modern manufacturers have started marketing the herbal blend, sometimes adding cat's claw, blessed thistle, watercress and other herbs. Based on its popularity as a cancer treatment, it has been tried for all sorts of incurable conditions such as AIDS and diabetes. Many of the herbs included in the Essiac formulas have been used traditionally as total body cleansers - a nice way of saying they provoke diarrhea and sweating! Some contain toxic amounts of tannins and oxalic acid that can damage the liver and kidneys.


Does it work Studies done on mice at New York's prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in the 1970s failed to show any significant effect on tumors. Because of popular demand, the Canadian government funded studies at Laval University and Toronto General Hospital in the 1970s and 1980s. In these studies, 87 adults suffering from cancer for whom no other therapy had worked were given Essiac. Over five years of follow-up, there was no improvement in 78 of the 87 patients; for the others, benefits were not clear because they were also receiving other therapies.


There have not been any American studies evaluating Essiac as a cancer remedy by itself or in combination with mainstream treatments. There are no studies evaluating its safety or side effects in children. Given its main ingredients, there is some risk of liver and kidney damage as well as upset stomach and diarrhea with Essiac. It hardly seems like a miracle cure, and it's definitely not worth abandoning mainstream treatments.


As with all herbal products, it's buyer beware. And do talk with your physicians if you decide to try any alternative or complementary therapy. They can help you monitor side effects and benefits safely.


Good luck, and let me know how she does.


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