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not so ”herbal”

(Update, Feb 2007: This PSA may be relevant to this story, possibly.)

it seems a herbal remedy which “mystified and delighted doctors when it cured prostate cancer”, in fact contained hefty quantities of synthetic drugs (link):

We do have to admit that these are not natural substances … and that at least some, if not all, of the biological activity has to be attributed to these synthetic compounds.

Date: Sun, 08 Sep 2002 19:25:37 +0100
From: Rachel Carthy (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Um, is diethystilbestrol a herb?

‘Alternative’ Prostate Medicine Contains Drugs Tue Sep 3, 3:53 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A so-called alternative herbal compound that mystified and delighted doctors when it cured prostate cancer in fact contained strong drugs that can only be made in the laboratory, researchers said on Tuesday.

Called PC-SPES, the compound was pulled off the market in February when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it contained prescription-only ingredients.

A team of Czech and U.S. researchers confirmed that the allegedly natural preparation contains the prescription bloodthinner warfarin, an analgesic called indomethacin and an artificial version of estrogen.

“These are synthetic compounds and under the circumstances we don’t have a good explanation for their finding their way into this preparation,” Dr. Robert Nagourney of Rational Therapeutics in Long Beach, California, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Nagourney advocates the use of standard drugs and alternative therapies to treat cancer and was hoping to find out how PC-SPES worked.

PC-SPES — the name combines “PC” for prostate cancer and the Latin world “spes” which means hope — astonished doctors soon after it was introduced in 1996. Its maker, BotanicLabs of Brea, California, said it contained seven Chinese or Indian herbs plus saw palmetto.

No clinical studies showed how well it worked against prostate cancer, which affects 189,000 American men a year and kills 30,000. But anecdotal evidence showed it could help even advanced prostate cancer patients.

“That was what launched my interest in the mid-1990s,” said Nagourney, whose team published its findings in this week’s issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.


“We were already trying it in patients. I was seeing objective responses. I was very anxious to see if we could isolate the active ingredient.”

But Nagourney’s team could not make their own mixture of the eight plant products work.

So they sent PC-SPES to the labs of Milos Sovak of the University of California San Diego, who worked with colleagues in the Czech Republic to analyze it.

That was when they found the rogue ingredients, which should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.

The estrogen component, diethystilbestrol, could itself explain many of the effects of the product, Nagourney said. The hormone estrogen is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer.

Indomethacin also may have properties that work against tumor cells, as do other drugs in the same class, the researchers said.

Warfarin can cause dangerous bleeding and in October 2001 doctors in Seattle reported a case of severe bleeding in a man who was taking PC-SPES.

“We do have to admit that these are not natural substances … and that at least some, if not all, of the biological activity has to be attributed to these synthetic compounds,” Nagourney said.

He has not given up hope, however. “There are meritorious natural products that need to be explored,” Nagourney said. He said all “alternative” remedies should be scientifically tested, as drugs are.

BotanicLab, which closed in June, had warned customers to stop using its product and throw away any unused capsules. —

“The good Christian should be aware of mathematicians and all those who make empty promises. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.” St Augustine of Hippo, late 4th C AD.

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