Written by Suzanne M. Diamond, M.Sc.
Four humble herbs with an impressive history for helping people to improve their health and overcome disease include burdock root (Arctium lappa L.), sheep sorrel herb (Rumex acetosella L.), Indian rhubarb root (Rheum officinale L.) and slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra Muhl.). A traditional herbal formulation made with these four herbs is gaining recognition as a good remedy for treating a wide range of health problems. The below information covers some of the impressive research on these four herbs and helps to shed light on how this synergist blend can afford so many profound health benefits.
BURDOCK ROOT (Arctium lappa L.) Not far from your doorstep, if you look, you can usually find the soft green leaves of burdock, common in most neighborhoods— and based on much scientific and historical data, the root of this plant can dramatically enhance your health by boosting your immune system, improving digestion and thwarting cancer in many different ways. Regularly incorporating burdock root in your daily regime may even be able to increase your lifespan based on anti-aging results found with animals. There are many other documented and accepted health benefits of regularly drinking burdock root tea based on the German Pharmacopoeia, including the relief of gastrointestinal complaints and bone and joint conditions.
Burdock root, also known as gobo or Poor-man’s potatoes, is an important food in Japan known for its many healing properties. Burdock root can safely be eaten as a root vegetable and is popularly eaten by Japanese people and sushi lovers of all nationalities. When grown in loamy soil, the root grows into a very long, creamy colored tap root similar in appearance to a carrot but much longer. It can grow deeper than most root veggies and is known as a good source of trace elements and minerals accessed from deeper soil layers. Unlike carrots and potatoes, burdock root does not contain starch it contains complex carbohydrates called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) including 27–45 percent inulin. When people eat starchy roots, this causes a sharp rise in blood sugar and blood insulin levels. But burdock root provides the body with soluble fibers that do not affect blood sugar or blood insulin levels. This makes burdock root and FOS particularly beneficial for diabetics. FOS and inulin have many scientifically documented health benefits including acting as a beneficial prebiotic by feeding beneficial intestinal microflora (BIM) while also eliminating potential gut pathogens, optimizing colonic pH, boosting bone strength through increasing calcium and mineral absorption from food, supporting serum enterolactone and enterodiol concentrations, helping to control blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol. Other foods that contain inulin include chicory root, onions, Jerusalem artichokes and bananas.
According to Bengmark (2005), researching out of the Institute of Hepatology, University College, London Medical School, U.K., inulin has prebiotic qualities and can affect intestinal immune cells and potentially repair the gut wall and thereby improve overall immune function. Several recent scientific studies have documented significant immune-enhancing effects of inulin and oligofructose.
Taking herbal formulas that contains burdock root, rich in natural oligofructose and inulin, have been found to afford many digestive benefits and favorable results have been shown with a number of digestive disorders according to Tamayo and colleagues (2000).
SHEEP SORREL (Rumex acetosella L.) Sheep sorrel is a common herb found abundantly at roadsides and is otherwise known as sour grass because of its tart leaves. The leaves are popularly used in herbal teas for rejuvenating health and cleansing toxins from the body. Sheep sorrel has powerful phytoestrogen activity (phytoestrogen means plant-estrogen) based on in vitro studies conducted by U.S. hormone researcher, Dr. David Zava in 1998. Sheep sorrel came in tenth out of 150 herbs tested for phytoestrogen activity; the list was headed by soy beans, licorice root and red clover herb, all legumes wellknown for their phytoestrogen activity.
Sheep sorrel is an important component of ESSIAC® tea and products, together with three other herbs, burdock root, slippery elm bark and Indian rhubarb root. Early research on sheep sorrel herb by famed Canadian nurse Rene M. Caisse and R.O. Fisher, M.D., in Ontario in the 1920s and 30s, found that sheep sorrel liquid extract given to mice with artificially induced tumors caused cancerous tumors to markedly regress and disappear. The other herbs in ESSIAC were said to help with cleansing and eliminating the dead cancer cells and other toxins from the system. Nurse Rene Caisse also reputedly had success with treating cancer patients with ESSIAC together with sheep sorrel extract—including one case cured and two cases improved accepted by a Cancer Commission set up by the Canadian Government in the 1939. There are many more anecdotal reports and some well documented cases of success with ESSIAC for dramatically improving people’s health very quickly.
Human clinical studies with other phytoestrogen-rich foods and herbs, such as flaxseed and red clover, have also produced profound anti-cancer results. For instance, clinical studies with breast cancer patients given muffins containing 50 grams of ground flaxseed daily (flaxseed contains phytoestrogens called lignans in its seed coat) versus placebo muffins (without flaxseed) conducted by Dr. Paul Goss, Dr. Lilian Thompson and colleagues in 2000 at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and a further clinical study conducted by these same researchers with post-menopausal breast cancer patients taking 25 grams of flaxseed daily documented significant anti-cancer effects within 30 to 40 days. A study done with a prostate cancer patient in Australia reported by Dr. Fredrick O. Stevens (1997) and a further randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study with prostate cancer patients conducted by Dr. Jarred and colleagues in England (2002) using red clover isoflavonoid extracts (160 mg/daily for only seven days in the case study and for 30–40 days in the clinical trial) have documented strong anti-cancer effects for red clover isoflavonoid phytoestrogens within days/weeks based on tumorectomies. There were no serious negative side effects noted in any of these studies.
Foods and herbs rich in phytoestrogens, such as flaxseed (lignans), burdock root (isoflavones), burdock seed (lignans), milk thistle seed (lignans), red clover (isoflavones), soybean (isoflaonves), kudzu root (isoflavones), etc., once eaten, are metabolized within the gut by beneficial intestinal bacteria and the isoflavonoids and lignans that they contain significantly increase serum enterolactone and enterodiol concentrations. According to research conducted by the Australian company, Novogen, certain phytoestrogen metabolites function to inhibit anti-apoptosis proteins in cancer cells thereby causing cancer cells to go through apoptosis or programmed cell death without harming normal cells. Simply put, phtoestrogen-rich foods and extracts can cause cancer cells to simply die and be cleansed from the body without causing terrible side effects. Many phytoestrogens have also been shown to stimulate beneficial anti-cancer enzymes. The powerful and safe anti-cancer activity of phytoestrogen-rich foods and herbs may help to explain the myriad anecdotal reports of spontaneous remissions in cancer patients and miracle cancer cures documented over the centuries with various herbs and herbal combinations. More research is needed in this area to clearly define the anti-cancer activity of different phytoestrogens.
Many foods, herbs and supplements contain beneficial phytoestrogens and other natural anti-cancer compounds that help to balance hormones in different ways. Sheep sorrel appears to be one that may have great promise for cancer patients. Further human clinical studies with sheep sorrel are needed to confirm the beneficial estrogen modulating and anti-cancer activity of its phytoestrogens and other active ingredients.
SLIPPERY ELM INNER BARK
(Ulmus fulva Michx. and U. rubra Muhl.) Slippery elm bark has a long history of use as a medicine and also as a food that can be eaten like gruel and is commonly made into lozenges for sore throats and coughs. The inner bark of this tree has been used as folk remedy for treating cancer and other conditions including: respiratory problems, throat irritation, fever, abscesses, dysentery, urinary and kidney inflammations.
Choi and colleagues (2002) at Pusan National University in Korea studied slippery elm bark and found that it exhibited dose-dependent peroxynitrite scavenging activities. According to Langmead and colleagues (2002) at the Academic Department of Adult and Paediatric Gastroenterology, London, U.K., slippery elm bark also exhibited potent antioxidant activity using in vitro tests based on chemiluminescence used to detect herbal effects on generation of oxygen radicals by mucosal biopsies from patients with active ulcerative colitis. These researchers concluded that slippery elm and other herbal extracts merit formal evaluation as novel therapies in inflammatory bowel disease.
Lans, Turner, Khan and Bauer (2007) report the use of Ulmus fulva Michx. in ethnoveterinary medicines used to treat endoparasites and stomach problems in pigs and pets in British Columbia, Canada. The authors note that Ulmus fulva, along with other plants used for this purpose, have mid- to high-level validity for their ethnoveterinary use as anthelmintics (deworming agents).
Five case studies of patients with psoriasis following a dietary regimen including a pinch of slippery elm bark taken daily with meals found relief of symptoms according to Brown and colleagues (2004) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, U.S. The five psoriasis cases, ranging from mild to severe at the study onset, improved on all measured outcomes over a six-month period.
INDIAN RHUBARB ROOT
(Rheum officinale L.)
Michael Castleman in his book, Medicinal Herbs describes rhubarb (medicinal rhubarbs, Rheum officinale and R. palmatum; and garden rhubarb, R. rhaponticum noted as having similar but less powerful action) as an odd plant: its roots are medicinal; its stems make tasty pies but its leaves are poisonous. He also notes that Chinese physicians have used rhubarb root since ancient times prescribing it externally as a treatment for cuts and burns and internally in small amounts for dysentery while large amounts have powerful laxative action. Formerly, the root was an important drug in many army camps, said to stop dysentry in its tracks. The active ingredients of Indian rhubarb root include emodin and aloe-emodin, rhein and other anthracene derivatives.
Conclusion: According to many studies, adding a time-tested herbal formula with these humble herbs to your daily menu may bring a boon to your health resulting in many immediately noticeable benefits to your well-being.
Formal clinical trials are warranted to evaluate the real anticancer effects of formulas containing these four herbs. Such clinical studies need to be carefully designed, placebo controlled clinical trials with cancer patients scheduled for tumorectomies but not receiving chemo or radiation, in order to avoid confounding variables from these treatments (i.e. similar in design to studies assessing the anticancer effects of flaxseed and red clover).
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