Nature’s COX-2 inhibiting pharmacy includes dozens of herbs. The standouts are green tea, turmeric, holy basil, rosemary, ginger, oregano, Scutellaria, barberry, and the Chinese herbs Hu Zhang and Chinese Goldenthread. Researchers at Columbia University are currently studying the effectiveness of an herbal product, called Zyflamend, composed of a mixture of all of these potent herbal anti-inflammatories against prostate and breast cancer. The details of the study will be discussed in the upcoming section on “Zyflamend and Cancer.”
Leading complementary and alternative physicians, like Dr. Andrew Weil, prescribe Zyflamend for their patients with inflammatory conditions. It is also used at the Cleveland Clinic Spine Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If you want learn more about the properties of the herbs in Zyflamend, there’s an excellent book I recommend called Beyond Aspirin (Newmark and Schulick, Hohm Press 2000).
CANCER AND THE COX-2 ENZYME
Researchers have found that inflammation isn’t the only thing that the COX-2 enzyme takes part in. It also plays a key role in the initiation and growth of several cancers including cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast. The COX-2 enzyme stimulates breast cells to start dividing and growing. It also prevents tumor cells from undergoing normal cell death, so more tumor cells stay alive, accelerating the growth of the tumor. The more tumor cells there are -- the faster and bigger the tumor grows. The COX-2 enzyme also encourages new blood vessels to grow. New blood vessels are continually required to deliver enough nutrients and oxygen-laden blood to feed an expanding tumor. The more nutrients and oxygen the tumor gets -- the bigger and faster it will grow.
Tumor cells are able to invade normal tissue more aggressively as a response to COX-2. COX-2 also increases the tumor's ability to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body and suppresses the immune system so that it can't fight off cancer cells as well. It also increases the production of mutagens -- substances that cause mutations in our DNA that can lead to cancer. When you add them all up, all these nasty effects of the COX-2 enzyme powerfully promote tumor growth in our body. It's no wonder studies show taking anti-inflammatories that blocks all the ill effects of the COX-2 enzyme can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50%.
Some tumors show an "over-expression" of the COX-2 enzyme. What this means is that these tumor cells have a lot more active COX-2 enzymes than normal tissue usually does. The tumors that frequently show over-expression of the COX-2 enzyme include cancers of the colon, prostate and breast. Not all breast cancers over-express the COX-2 enzyme. Researchers found about 50% of breast cancers do.
According to a study published in the Austria British Journal of Cancer in 2003, women with breast tumors that over-express COX-2 are more likely to have their tumors recur, or come back, in a short period of time after treatment. Patients with these types of tumors also have an overall poorer survival.
COX-2 INHIBITORS AND BREAST CANCER
As discussed above, certain anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical medications, like Celebrex, are designed to work by blocking or inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme. All the herbs found in Zyflamend inhibit the COX-2 enzyme too. Research shows all COX-2 inhibitors, not surprisingly, have powerful anti-cancer properties. In experimental animals, they have been found to significantly reduce the formation of breast tumors and the number of tumors that grow in response to a carcinogen. They also inhibit the growth of tumors once they have formed. Researchers at Ohio State University in a study published in 2001, found a direct relationship between the amount of COX-2 inhibitor that was given and the number of breast tumors that formed in the test animals. The higher the dose of a COX-2 inhibitor that was given, the lower the incidence of breast tumors that formed.