I’d like to share some information taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine. One of the important aspects of full spectrum care to improve cancer outcomes is investigating … even when investigations lead outside the borders of our country.
China has a long, well-developed, complex system of medicine. It is very different from what we are used to here in the West. Many of the ideas used can seem very foreign.
However, it has served them well for literally thousands of years, totally independent of Hippocrates and our ideas here in the US.
Let’s look at a common treatment that is used in many of the Chinese preparations. It is beneficial in cancer management, easily available, and we can take advantage of it in our country.
It is Astragalus membranaceous, Huang qi in Chinese. There are many subspecies of this legume, and some of the other types can be toxic in large doses.
This herb has several applications in canine cancer care. First, it is an immune booster. This is important for cancer patients, who often have suppressed immunity, which leads to secondary infections as well as cancer progression.
Because of this, immune stimulation is critical in dealing with cancer. This herb seems able to stimulate B-cells preferentially. B-cells are the white blood cells that make antibodies. Although antibodies are not the primary way the body attacks cancer cells, they are useful in overall immunity. Many times infections in the body or within the tumors themselves create further sickness.
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Huang qi also was shown to increase survival times and lessen chemotherapy’s side effects. In a study where lung cancers were treated with platinum drugs, the group treated with this herb lived longer and had fewer side effects. Platinum drugs are commonly used in veterinary oncology and include cisplatin and carboplatin.
Astralagus species of plants accumulate selenium from the soil. Selenium is considered generally to be an anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants are generally thought to be helpful in cancer prevention … but once cancer has established itself, they are not as useful. (There is an entire chapter dedicated to the anti-oxidant vs. pro-oxidant discussion in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and you can also find an article here to explain more.)
So why are we talking about selenium for cancer? Because in larger amounts, selenium becomes a pro-oxidant! And administering pro-oxidants to fight cancer is very common. Many chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy work by killing cancer cells through oxidation. They have pro-oxidant effects.
Astragalus is commonly found in teas. However, the amounts of tea needed are likely too high to be useful in dogs (dogs don’t like to drink tea as much as humans do).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people use this root on the order of 1/2 to 1 ounce.
It could be useful to give 1/4 to 1/2 an ounce of the root one to two times daily for a 60 lb dog with cancer. Astralagus root is a sliced, woody material, and you can either grind it yourself or soak in low-sodium chicken or beef broth to make it palatable. Here is an article from a veterinarian who uses astralagus regularly and has dosing recommendations.
As usual, work with your veterinarian or oncologist to come up with a plan that makes sense. Don’t forget that you are your dog’s primary health advocate!
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.