Humble Herb Offers New Weapon Against Cancer

Published May 12th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

A common herb that has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 700 years is providing scientists with a new weapon in the battle against cancer, British experts said on Wednesday, quoted Thursday by 

The report says the starflower contains a substance which studies have shown can kill brain and prostate cancer cells. 

The plant, commonly known as borage, contains a substance called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which studies have shown can kill brain and prostate cancer cells and inhibit the spread of malignant tumors by restricting blood vessel growth.  

In a recent study of women with breast cancer, scientists from Nottingham in central England found that a cocktail of GLA and the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen speeded up patients' response rates. "Oil extracted from borage is a rich source of GLA," Dr Alan McGown, the head of drug development at Britain's Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) charity, told a news conference.  

The starflower has the most potent concentration of GLA in nature. Oil from the plant is 24 percent GLA. The compound is also found in evening primrose oil which is used to treat premenstrual problems.  

McGown said the starflower's watery cucumber taste made it a popular culinary herb in the Middle Ages but it is now grown mostly for its bright white and blue flowers and for cancer research and treatment. GLA has little or no side effects.  

In the Nottingham study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, 38 breast cancer patients were given eight oral capsules of GLA, a total of 2.8 grams a day, and tamoxifen and compared with a control group of women who took just tamoxifen.  

The women taking the cocktail achieved a significantly faster clinical response than the controls, prompting the scientists to suggest that GLA could be a useful addition to tamoxifen in women with a specific type of breast cancer.  

"The provisional results from our phase II study suggest high-dose oral GLA to be a valuable new agent in the treatment of endocrine-sensitive breast cancer," the scientists said.  

Professor Gordon McVie, the director general of the CRC, said women should be aware of the potential benefits of GLA but he advised patients to consult their doctors and not to self-prescribe –  


© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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