Alternative therapies are often based on naturally-occurring products that cannot be patented. There is much less research funding available for these alternatives, because it is unlikely that anyone can make a substantial profit without patent protection. However, data available from academic studies often suggest that alternative medical traditions have benefits with less toxicity than synthetic drugs.
I found two recommended alternatives for leukemia in the book “Alternatives in Cancer Therapy”, available at the bookstore nearest me. One is pau d'arco tea, from the South American Tabebuia avellanedae plant, also called Lapacho. Checking the medical literature, I found a recent report from a Korean university with positive results. The authors performed laboratory studies on beta-lapachone (LAPA) from this plant to see what it does to leukemia cells. They conclude, “LAPA has a direct cytotoxic effect and the loss of telomerase activity in leukemia cells.”
The book recommends one or more eight-ounce glasses of pau d'arco tea per day, under the supervision of a doctor. There are no interactions with standard chemotherapy reported in the book, but your oncologist will want to know what else you're taking. The product is available on the Internet and in many health food stores.
The other alternative leukemia treatment recommended by the book authors is alkylglycerols from shark liver oil. This comes from the folk medicine of Sweden and Norway, they report. When I checked this out in the medical literature, I found a fascinating article about tumor cell inhibitors from cultures of shark epigonal cells. The point of studying sharks is that they are the most primitive animals to have an adaptive immune system, as we have. They do not have bone marrow to produce blood cells the way we do, so the authors speculate that sharks and their cartilaginous cousins may produce novel immune regulator molecules.
I found several medical journal articles claiming health benefits in general from shark liver oil, but no confirmation that it has any particular benefits for leukemia.
1. Ross Pelton, R.Ph., Ph.D., and Lee Overholser, Ph.D., “Alternatives in Cancer Therapy”, Simon & Schuster, 1994.
2. Moon DO et al., “Beta-lapachone (LAPA) decreases cell viability and telomerase activity in leukemia cells: suppression of telomerase activity by LAPA”, J Med Food. 2010 Jun; 13(3):481-8.
3. Pau d'arco tea:
4. Walsh CJ et al, “Elasmobranch immune cells as a source of novel tumor cell inhibitors: Implications for public health”, Integr Comp Biol. 2006 Dec. 1; 46(6): 1072-81.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.