Chinese medicine can reverse multidrug resistance in chemotherapy

Bacteria aren’t the only ones who can become resistant to drugs: Cancer cells do it, too, and often with the worst possible outcomes. In a systematic review that appeared in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, a team of researchers from different universities in China looked into the ability of Chinese medicines to treat multidrug resistance during chemotherapy.

Multidrug resistance refers to a condition where a microorganism becomes insensitive to antimicrobial medication. In pathogens, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, this can lead to a significant increase in human mortality and morbidity rates. It also results in the failure of standard treatments, prolonged illness, and a greater economic burden.

For cancer cells, it’s pretty much the same thing. Multidrug resistance happens when these cells are able to survive despite a wide range of anti-cancer treatments. In particular, this can lead to decreased drug absorption in these cells, causing cancer chemotherapy to fail. This snowballs into other problems, which include resistance to cell death (apoptosis), changes in drug metabolism, increased DNA damage repair, and changes in drug target or target levels.

In the study, researchers acknowledged the need to develop agents to combat the effects of multidrug resistance. However, they identified two main problems in producing reversal agents against the condition: (1) The agents themselves have side effects when used in a clinical setting; and (2) these can indiscriminately damage both cancerous and healthy cells.

Researchers then suggested looking at Chinese medicines as safer alternatives to conventional drugs, given their lower toxicity and adverse reaction. In addition, they pointed out that the medicines were also noted to work with multiple targets and have varied components.

“[Chinese medicines] have several advantages and could reverse MDR, decrease drug dosage, enhance patient compliance and increase efficacy,” the researchers concluded.

Managing cancer using Chinese medicines

According to practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cancer isn’t just caused by abnormal cell growth – it’s the result of various factors, which range from external factors such as toxins from the environment to internal ones like emotional stress, unhealthy diets, and damaged organs. In particular, the disease is a manifestation of an underlying imbalance in the body, with the tumors being the “uppermost” branch of the disease, but not its “root.”

To get to the root of the disease, TCM practitioners look at a person’s individual patterns of Qi imbalance, then treat the disease accordingly. Recent studies identified TCM to be effective against most types of cancer, including lung cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, and nasopharyngeal cancer.

Here are just some herbs used in TCM which were noted to have anti-cancer properties:

  • Astragalus – It’s one of the most widely used herbs in TCM, thanks to its ability to improve the immune system. Research has shown that it prevents the growth and spread of tumors, and improves the immune system following chemotherapy.
  • Nan sha shen – Aside from being a potent natural antibiotic, nan sha shen (also known as American silvertop) is also known to reduce inflammation and inhibit cancer-promoting compounds.
  • Huang qi – The antioxidant properties of huang qi (also referred to as Chinese skullcap) were able to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. (Related: Huang Qi, a foundational herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), found to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation.)
  • Fu ling – Studies show that fu ling is a potent anti-cancer agent which can be used for various types of cancer, including those that affect the lung, skin, and prostate gland.

Learn more about traditional Chinese medicines that have anti-cancer properties at

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