Sabtu, 6 Julai 2013

Betulinic Acid for Skin Cancer Update


Betulinic Acid for Skin Cancer Update, and a mention of Santa Claus


December 21, 2006

Jacob Schor, ND


A year ago, I sent out a newsletter on betulinic acid and its potential use in treating cancer, especially melanoma. As it was almost Christmas when I sent it out, I managed a weak tie in to some trivia about Santa Claus. It turns out that our image of this generous gentleman may be a bit misplaced. Instead, I suggested that you consider Santa from an anthropological viewpoint, as a commercialized euphemistic representation of a mad eyed shaman of the reindeer people of the far north, stumbling across the frozen tundra feeding hallucinogenic amanita mushrooms to both his reindeer herds and his ‘congregation', dropping down the smoke holes of yurts with a psychedelicized ho-ho-ho.


I enjoyed reading up on this history and found it entertaining to contemplate when watching Santa Claus at the shopping mall. So entertained was I that I decided to resend the same newsletter out again this year.


My recent email on mistletoe and my allusions to our current culture wars over wishing a Merry Christmas, generated several requests from people asking to be removed from our mailing list. At this point, we hopefully won't offend anyone else on the list by revealing Santa's true identity.


First, we must look at new developments regarding betulinic acid since this time last year. Recall that betulinic acid is a chemical derived from Birch tree bark. A paper back in 1995 first suggested that betulinic acid might be useful in treating skin cancer. Last year's Santa newsletter chronicled the early studies. So what is new? It turns out that a lot is new.


In February 2006, a paper reported great success using a topical salve containing betulinic acid to treat actinic keratosis. Twenty-eight patients were treated with either betulinic alone or betulinic acid in combination with standard freezing therapy. Clearing of more than 75 % of the lesions was seen in 79 % of the patients treated with birch bark ointment alone. The response rate of the combined treatment, betulinic acid and freezing, was 93 %. [i]


Studies are looking into the chemical structure of various betulinic derivatives attempting to figure out which forms work best against which cancer types and, more important to drug companies, which ‘analogues' that can be patented also work. A study from May, details the variations on structure hoping to determine which pieces are most needed to produce the substance's anticancer effect for modeling chemotherapy drugs after. [ii] A study from September is already testing analogues to betulinic acid to see if they work as well as the real stuff. [iii]


Half a dozen or so other studies continue to pursue information on betulinic acid's value in treating skin and other cancers. Betulinic acid kills other types of cancer cells as well as melanoma.


In a study published December 12, that is last week, Dutch researchers, “… tested the in vitro sensitivity of broad cell line panels derived from lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and cervical cancer, which are the prevalent cancer types characterized with highest mortalities in woman and men.” Their results were impressive: “….in all cell lines tested colony formation was completely halted at remarkably equal BA concentrations that are likely attainable in vivo.” [iv]


It was effective against all the cell lines tested in that study but they stuck with the big cancers. Another study published earlier in the year, suggests betulinic acid does not work against all types of Burkitt's lymphoma, one of those obscure things you don't want to get. [v]


Other uses for betulinic acid are showing up in the literature. It may be useful as an anti inflammatory and in killing the HIV virus that causes AIDs. It still appears to be safe, it is non toxic in mice in doses up to 500 mg per kilogram. [vi]


Last year I mentioned studies that showed that betulinic acid augmented the anticancer effect of vitamin D on leukemia, vincristin on lung cancer, hyperthermia and several other anticancer drugs. A study from September 2005, which I hadn't noticed, reports that betulinic acid was helpful when used in combination with vincristin for treating squamous cell cancers of the head and neck. [vii]


Just in November, a Chinese group reported a newer simpler and less expensive way to extract betulinic acid. [viii] Back in January, an American company named NATURNORTH TECHNOLOGIES near Duluth , Minnesota reported they had figured out a way to make betulinic acid from waste materials leftover from paper manufacturing. [ix]


Despite this interesting research, betulinic acid is still not widely available. I have yet to see any of our major nutritional supplement suppliers offering it in capsule or topical form. At this point, betulinic is available from chemical supply houses at reasonable prices and we have the option of hand compounding it into topical ointments or encapsulating it ourselves. Another option is to use Birch bark which can contain as much as 30% betulin. This can be made into a tea or a compress.


My imagination quickly runs to the idea of steeping pounds of birch bark in a hot tub in which we then soak patients. Given the apparent safety of the treatment and the current prognosis for patients with melanoma, one has to ask, “Why not?”


I will paste our original Santa newsletter below. You can read it with references on our website:



Santa Claus, Hallucinogenic mushrooms, birch trees and melanoma

December 8, 2005


Subject: Betulinic acid research is moving forward confirming its value in treating melanoma. Chaga mushrooms may be even more useful. Santa Claus trivia as well.


It is time to review the new studies on betulinic acid, a derivative of birch bark, and its potential role in treating melanoma. It is also time to consider the use of Chaga mushrooms which grow on birch trees. Yet given the season, we first must consider Santa Claus and his reindeer as the subjects are connected.


Amanita muscaria mushrooms grow only under certain types of trees, mostly firs and evergreens. Amanita are bright red with white spots: they are the original bright gifts that these early people sought under their ‘Christmas' tree.


In the belief system of these people, the sacred North Star stood atop a magical evergreen tree that was the central axis of the world. The shaman would metaphorically climb this tree and, by touching the North Star, would pass into the realm of the gods. With enough hallucinogenic mushrooms, anything is possible.


There is a drawback. Amanita mushrooms are very poisonous. They cause catastrophic liver failure. Serious shamans could avoid violent death by slowly building up tolerance to the poison by consuming tiny amounts of mushroom daily. Daily doses of violently toxic hallucinogens have their drawbacks. You can't hold a day job.


For the peoples of the far north reindeer provided an almost magical way around amanita toxicity. Reindeer are unaffected by the toxins or hallucinogens in amanita. When reindeer eat the mushrooms, the active hallucinogenic chemicals are left unchanged but the toxic elements are inactivated. By feeding mushrooms to the reindeer and then collecting and drinking the reindeer urine, our early Santa found a simple chemical detoxification process. If this sounds gross, recall how Premarin is made.


If you are into trivia, some scholars think that the origin of the phrase "to get pissed," was started by this urine-drinking; it preceded the consumption of alcohol by thousands of years and left the consumer incredibly plastered.


Does the image of an ancient shaman dressed in his traditional red fur hat trimmed with fur and long black leather boots coming back from collecting mushrooms carrying large sacks of bright red ‘gifts' sound a bit like the fellow in Coca-cola ads?


The hallucinogenic effect of the amanita mushroom often includes the feeling of flying, which probably accounts for the image of bell decked reindeer flying around the North Pole with a hallucinating shaman laughing in his sled.


While pondering that ancient Santa stumbling stoned on reindeer piss and falling through the smoke hole of his yurt, come back to the subject of betulinic acid which is what this article is really about.

Birch Trees and Betulinic Acid:

Betulinic acid is found in birch tree bark. These trees inhabit the northern cold latitudes and were very familiar to the reindeer peoples of northern Europe and Asia . Over the last few years a growing body of published scientific research has made this chemical appear very interesting for its potential effect in cancer treatment.


Although birch bark has a long history of use in making various herbal medicines, modern interest didn't start until ten years ago. In March, 1995, John Pezzuto of the University of Illinois , Chicago reported that a compound isolated from birch bark called betulinic acid, was able to kill human melanoma cells transplanted into mice.


Dr. Pezzuto extracted betulin from birch logs found in an old woodpile near his Chicago laboratory and converted this into betulinic acid (BA). Unlike conventional chemotherapy, this compound caused no apparent side effects and, for obvious reasons, is potentially very inexpensive. This initial research spurred a flurry of studies confirming the initial findings, delineating the chemical mechanisms of action, or at least some of them, and finding BA effective at killing other types of cancer cell besides melanoma.


Studies published in the last few years continue to confirm betulinic acid (BA) kills melanoma cells. Eight years after the original article from 1995 [i] the original research group published again, providing greater detail to the mechanism of action. [ii] Various chemical derivatives of BA have been created and examined with even greater cytotoxicity, 2005. [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] While toxic to skin cancer cells BA encourages cell differentiation in normal skin cells according to a 2005 study. [vii]


Betulinic acid may be useful in treating other cancers besides melanoma. Research has been published suggesting use of BA in treatment of leukemia, [viii] [ix] lung, [x] head and neck cancer, [xi] and brain [xii] cancer. It enhances the effect of other treatments, including vitamin D on leukemia, [xiii] vincristine on lung cancer, [xiv] hyperthermia [xv] and potentiates other anticancer drugs. [xvi]


Doctrine of Signatures and Chaga Mushroom:

There is an old theory in herbal medicine called the Doctrine of Signatures which suggests that the therapeutic use of a plant can be inferred from the image, shape or form the plant presents. In simpler word, the plant's appearance contains a message which suggests the organ or illness it is useful to treat. It is interesting that the skin of the birch tree yields a chemical useful in treating skin ailments. It is even more interesting if you look at the appearance of a fungus that occasionally grows on birch trees. This fungus, a mushroom polyspore called Chaga, Innonotus obliquus , which parasitizes birch trees and can only be described as looking like a tumor. The Chaga mushroom has been revered by those same reindeer cultures that brought us Santa, and used as a medicine to treat among other things, skin cancers. Although the mushroom can grow on other trees, including alder and beech, only the mushrooms from birch trees are reputed to have medicinal value.


Unlike most mushrooms, chaga is a polypore, a fungus with pores instead of gills. Chaga is a parasite and draws its nutrients out of living trees, rather than from the ground. Fungi digest food outside their bodies by releasing enzymes into the surrounding environment, breaking down organic matter into a form the fungus can then absorb. Chaga absorb large amounts of betulinic acid from the birch trees and convert it into various forms that can be ingested orally.


Chaga mushrooms are not easy to come by. They often grow high in the trees at a height of 10 to 30 feet, which makes collecting difficult. The Russians, the main commercial source of these mushrooms, go out with ropes and harnesses. The ideal chaga fruiting body is 25 years old and may weigh 10 pounds. According to one chaga website, only one birch tree in 15,000 yields a mushroom.


There is less research on Chaga than on betulinic acid yet what there is looks promising. Chaga is immunostimulating, having effects similar to other medicinal mushrooms. [xvii] It has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving action. [xviii] It acts as an antioxidant, [xix] preventing damage to cell DNA. [xx]


What does this have to do with Santa and his reindeer? Not much. Reindeer convert one medicinal plant substance into another more ‘beneficial' for people. This sort of transformation by an intermediary organism into something more useful to people is not unique. The fermentation of sugars by yeast to make alcohol is the most obvious example. The biotransformation of birch bark by Chaga mushrooms may yield a unique ally in the treatment of specific illnesses. Betulinic acid appears useful on its own yet we already know that certain chemical derivatives are even more powerful. Chaga may provide a source of betulinic acid at once both more bioavailable and useful. These mushrooms may provide benefits, in ways more complex and more elegant than the research scientists have yet to figure out? If nothing else the digression about Santa should provide food for thought this holiday season.


Note: In 1994 local Denver artist, Tom Stimson traveled extensively documenting the shamanic use of Amanita mushrooms in far eastern Russia . He produced and sells a fascinating video on these Siberian shamans who still employ amanita mushrroms.
































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