Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden
Taking time to travel is invigorating for the soul. Sometimes the most interesting travel takes place in one's own back yard. This summer in the Pacific Northwest, it rained throughout June. It was a good time to do fall activities – hiking around and discovering one's neighborhood. Bastyr University is located in Kenmore, Washington, in a secluded state park along the northern shore of Lake Washington. Traveling to the park by road or from boat, all one sees are woods. Bastyr's buildings look like a cloister or a monastery for good reason – it was originally a seminary.
Bastyr was founded as a naturopathic college and named after one of the fathers of naturopathic medicine – John Bastyr. After years spent in achieving accreditation from the US Department of Education, Bastyr has expanded to become a university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. In addition to first-rate medical training in naturopathy, Bastyr offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in acupuncture and oriental medicine, nutrition, and midwifery. It also graduates students with bachelors' degrees in health psychology, exercise science and wellness, integrated human biology, and herbal sciences. Bastyr University is engaged in research programs, including grants conferred by the National Institutes of Health.
Walking the grounds of Bastyr, one is drawn to some lovely gardens situated behind the main educational buildings. Touring the Bastyr University medicinal herb garden on a cool rainy day in June not only takes one's mind off the gloomy weather, it seems to bring out the sunshine from within one's imagination. The university offers guided tours to the public; but my wife, Deborah, and I enjoyed the solitude of visiting the herbal garden with no other visitors. The herbal science faculty and student volunteers maintain the 350 Western and Chinese medicinal plants. What makes the experience especially satisfying from an educational perspective is the organization of the herbs. Plants are gathered on circular islands based on their herbal functioning. For example, hawthorn and foxglove are placed in a grouping of herbs supporting circulation, while barberry and milk thistle are placed with those supporting digestive function. As in most botanical gardens, species are displayed with signage identifying each plant. Since treatment in naturopathic medicine depends on the prescribing of herbs, the herbal garden offers Bastyr students a wonderful opportunity to see the herb they are recommending in its natural state. To have that connection between the living plant and the medicine one prescribes is a powerful support to the healing process.
Milk Thistle (Silybum)
Efforts to stem the worst ecological disaster of our time, the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico, are rightly focused on plugging the leak and controlling the contamination of beaches and marshes. Fishermen are worried about their livelihoods as wildlife, especially fish and shellfish, are inundated with oil, natural gas, benzene, and other hydrocarbons. State authorities are prohibiting fishing, and human consumption of tainted seafood is being avoided. However, the dispersion of oil and other petrochemicals will begin to circulate beyond the Gulf of Mexico. Admittedly, it is not clear how much pollution will disperse into the Atlantic. Even if the pollutant concentration is minimal, petrochemicals will accumulate to a minuscule degree in seafood. Given that seafood is a key part of the human diet, there is good reason to be concerned about trace petrochemical ingestion. Despite attempts by many authorities to deny such risk, prudent individuals should take measures to detoxify.
My visit to Bastyr's herb garden included seeing a milk thistle plant up close, reminded me that silybum is very powerful medicine. Regrettably, it is one that conventional medicine ignores. Here is an herb that has been shown in repeated rodent experiments to be so powerful that it can prevent death after exposure to terrible poisons, including carbon tetrachloride and the amanita mushroom. Consumption of carbon tetrachloride and amanita will poison the liver, shutting down liver function and progressing to liver death within hours. For a simple nontoxic herb, milk thistle, to block the deadly effects of such toxins is not only remarkable – it is a wonder that medicine has ignored using such a safe treatment. Of course, one's main focus in the preventing petrochemical toxicity is to address the long-term effects of petrochemicals on the liver and the rest of the body. Silybum has also been shown to be effective in blocking the toxic effects of ethanol, heavy metals, and numerous drug agents. The mechanism for silybum's action has been attributed to its powerful antioxidant activity, preventing membrane damage by toxins, and supporting cellular reparative function when exposed to toxins. The role of silybum in repairing liver cells exposed to toxins is well reported. For an excellent review of silybum, read the monograph in Simon Mills and Kerry Bone's text Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Milk thistle should be a staple in patient prescriptions in 2010.
Fermented Soy for Cancer
As Ralph Moss has reported over the past year in his Townsend Letter column, progress in cancer treatment has been glacially slow and overly expensive for questionably responsive therapies. The prospects for a patient battling metastatic cancer are grim from a prognostic and financial perspective. The American Cancer Society claims that great strides have been made in cancer work over the past decade, but much of that success has been based on intervention in early-stage cancer. Late-stage cancer remains abysmally entrenched in nonresponsive chemotherapy and radiation programs. Of course, chemotherapy and radiation are the "standard of care," which means that all cancer patients must be prescribed such regimens. While most cancer specialists impugn alternative cancer therapies, a growing number of cancer centers are beginning to offer holistic therapies, especially counseling and visualization approaches. Biologic, nutraceutical, and herbal therapies are not well supported, and patients wanting such treatments are generally obliged to seek them outside the cancer center setting. The Townsend Letter has sought to encourage discussion of unapproved biologic and herbal therapies for cancer, as most medical journals refuse to publish such reports. We are pleased to focus this issue on alternative cancer diagnostics and therapies.
In this issue, Walter Wainright examines the role of the estrogen receptor in the cancer process. Wainright differentiates between the alpha-estrogen receptor that encourages cancer growth and the beta-estrogen receptor that inhibits cancer proliferation and activity. He discusses the role that fermented soy plays in inhibiting alpha-estrogen receptors and stimulating beta-estrogen receptors. Medicine has focused on using drug agents such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex to inhibit alpha-estrogen activity. Wainright reports on data demonstrating that fermented soy potentiates the inhibition of alpha-estrogen activity of Tamoxifen. Further, Wainright argues that the role of alpha-estrogen activity in stimulating cancer growth is not limited to breast cancer but is involved in many other cancers. Hence fermented soy would be an important consideration for many alternative cancer therapy regimens.
Jonathan Collin, MD