Dr. Ralph Moss
readers know the feverfew plant (Tanacetum parthenium), a member
of the Chrysanthemum family, sometimes called bachelor's buttons.
This is a cheerful-looking perennial, with a profusion of white
pompon-like bloomslike a shower of tiny daisies. Feverfew
is often included in mixed bouquets and, to me, is the essence of
know this plant as a source of herbal relief. One traditional usage,
as a febrifuge (or fever-reducer) is apparent from its name. It
is also a well-known folk remedy for migraine. I keep a feverfew
product in my medicine chest, in anticipation of the summertime
visits of a friend who is prone to these massive headaches (Pfaffenrath
2002; Murphy 1988).
scientists at the Univeristy of Rochester Medical Center have found
that an extract of feverfew is effective against a type of human
leukemia. Monica L. Guzman, PhD, and Craig T. Jordan, PhD, report
that feverfew extracts kill malignant stem cells like no other single
therapy they have tested. The active ingredient is derived from
parthenolide, one of a class of sesquiterpene lactones found in
the plant. The US National Cancer Institute is sufficiently excited
by this work to have accepted it into the rapid access program,
which aims to move experimental drugs from the laboratory to human
clinical trials as quickly as possible.
research is a very important step in setting the stage for future
development of a new therapy for leukemia," said Dr. Jordan.
"We have proof that we can kill leukemia stem cells with this
type of agent, and that is good news."
Focus on Stem Cells
is particularly exciting is that this feverfew extract is the first
agent known to destroy myeloid leukemia at the level of the stem
cells. Increasingly, cancer research is homing in on these primordial
cells as the source of cancer. This is the level at which malignancy
is born, and unless it is attacked at this level it can rarely be
controlled, much less cured.
the 19th century there were many intimations that primitive cells,
called "embryonal rests," were fundamentally connected
with the development of cancer. A high point came over a century
ago, when University of Edinburgh, Scotland, embryologist John Beard,
DSc (1858-1924) put forward the theory that cancer was in fact caused
by the malignant transformation of what he called pluripotent germ
cells. It now seems almost certain that Beard was giving an early
description of stem cells and their propensity to undergo malignant
change. Beard's idea was initially greeted with interest, but was
later marginalized, and finally all but forgotten. However, his
philosophy was kept alive through the work of a few maverick biologists,
such as Ernst T. Krebs, Sr. and Jr., H.H. Beard, William D. Kelley,
DDS, and others. Click
here for information on Prof. John Beard.
recent years, academic scientists have identified cancer stems cells
in blood cancers as well as in brain and breast tumors. The work
of Michael Clarke, MD, and his post-doctoral student, Mohammed Al-Hajj,
PhD, at the University of Michigan, has been particularly influential.
Clarke and Al-Hajj have shown that, contrary to what is generally
assumed, not all tumor cells are equally capable of causing metastatic
cancer. In fact, they found that in experimental breast tumors only
a tiny fraction - less than one percent - of tumor cells are actually
capable of causing metastasis. These highly malignant cells are
identifiable as stem cells. Click
here for information on Dr. Clarke's work.l
in 2005 by JeanMarie Houghton, MD, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts,
Worcester, showed that in certain stomach cancers the cells that
initiate the malignancy originate not in the tissues of the stomach
itself, but are actually stem cells that have migrated there from
the bone marrow. The initiating event in this sequence is a low-grade
infection in the stomach, typically caused by Helicobacter pylori.
Bone marrow derived cells (BMDCs) are sent to the stomach in response
to this infection, as part of the body's attempt to heal itself.
Once in the stomach, BMDCs assume the characteristics of the surrounding
tissues, but under the influence of hormonal signals emitted by
the inflamed tissue, they undergo malignant change. Click
here and then
here for information on Dr. Houghton's work.
latest University of Rochester findings on feverfew, while interesting
from the point of view of pharmacology, are even more important
in terms of basic science. They have deepened the scientific understanding
of how stem cells are involved in the origin and progression of
other treatments for AML, including the recently approved drug Gleevec,
are only moderately effective. That may be because they do not affect
the malignant stem cells, so "you're pulling the weed without
getting to the root," as Dr. Craig T. Jordan of the University
of Rochester said. In laboratory experiments, the Rochester scientists
have now shown that parthenolide is in fact more selective at stopping
cancer through apoptosis (programmed cell death) than was the standard
drug cytarabine (Ara-C).
have been some prior experiments showing that feverfew compounds
halt the growth of cancer cells. A phase I trial found that it was
also relatively non-toxic, laying the groundwork for future studies
of its effectiveness (Curry 2004).
to a University of Rochester press release, a person with leukemia
would not be able to take enough of the over-the-counter herbal
remedy to halt the disease. It is not clear how this information
has been established in the absence of clinical trials. In fact,
patients with leukemia might want to discuss this information with
feverfew products are widely available for the treatment of migraine
and other conditions. Many brands describe their products as "high
parthenolide." One needs to read the labels carefully, however.
I have found various products claiming to have 2, 5 or even 7 percent
parthenolide by weight. Some of these come from obscure companies.
One should definitely look for a product marketed by a reputable
company which would have something substantial to lose by deceiving
the public about the strength and purity of its product.
such company is Nature's Way. This company markets three separate
feverfew products: feverfew leaves, feverfew extract and an even
more concentrated product called MygraFew. This claims to have a
standardized content of 2 percent parthenolide. Thus, a 30 milligram
tablet contains 600 micrograms of parthenolide.
label cautions that feverfew is not recommended for use by pregnant
or lactating women, or children under two years of age. Certain
individuals may also experience oral discomfort or irritation when
using the product. If irritation does occur, the manufacturer advises
discontinuing the use of the product immediately. According to the
has been well tolerated in studies. The most common side effects
are mouth inflammation or ulcers, including swelling of the lips,
bleeding of the gums, and loss of taste. When stopped suddenly
after being used for long periods of time, feverfew may cause
rebound headaches, anxiety, sleep disturbances, muscle stiffness
or pain. Some people may experience more rapid or pounding heart
rates. Skin irritation or eczema may occur in those with feverfew
allergies. Photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight or sunlamps)
has been reported with other herbs in the Compositae plant family
and may be possible with feverfew as well. Less common side effects
may include stomach upset, such as indigestion, nausea, gas, constipation,
diarrhea, bloating or heartburn.
is not at all clear how often these adverse events occur. The website
further cautions that feverfew may combine adversely with certain
theory, feverfew may increase the risk of bleeding when used with
anticoagulants (blood thinners) or anti-platelet drugs. Examples
include warfarin (Coumadin), heparin and clopidogrel (Plavix).
Feverfew may also increase the risk of bleeding when used with
anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin,
Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, Anaprox). However, it is
possible that feverfew may increase the effectiveness of these
on the results from some animal studies, it has been suggested
that feverfew could worsen symptoms of depression or reduce the
effectiveness of antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac).
Feverfew should be used with caution in individuals with a history
of depression or other psychiatric illnesses.
current research work on the use of feverfew in the treatment of
AML is extremely good news. Apart from anything else, it strengthens
the argument that what is at the root of cancer is not a transformed
body (somatic) cell, but a special type of stem cell. This concept
has the potential to revolutionize the understanding of cancer,
and its treatment.
even with the help of NCI, it may be years before this flower derivative
makes it to the market. One thing is certain. At around 20¢
per tablet, the cost is reasonable, and compares favorably with
patented Gleevec, which, although better researched, costs around
$100 per day.
is a major national debate in the US over stem cell research. The
use of stem cells has been restricted by government decree.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) in principle is in favor of
stem cell research. An NIH news release states:
involving human pluripotent stem cells...promises new treatments
and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries.
The NIH believes the potential medical benefits of human pluripotent
stem cell technology are compelling and worthy of pursuit in accordance
with appropriate ethical standards."
there is a curious lack of support for stem cell research, at least
at NCI. For instance, when I searched the NCI's financial year 2006
budget proposal I could find only one glancing reference to stem
cells in that entire document.
also find no references whatsoever to stem cells in Andrew C. von
Eschenbach's "A vision for the National Cancer Program in the
United States." This is the statement in which the NCI director
put forward his views on how to eliminate the death and suffering
due to cancer by the year 2015. "A new era is now within our
grasp," he stated, "a time when no one suffers or dies
as a result of cancer." It is hard to imagine how the NCI intends
to accomplish this without a serious involvement in the most important
and exciting research initiative of our time.
is directed by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Dr. Moss is the author of eleven
acclaimed books including Antioxidants Against Cancer, Herbs Against
Cancer, Questioning Chemotherapy, and Cancer Therapy. He consults
for thousands of clients through his Moss Reports service. The
Moss Reports specializes in educating cancer patients about
the most promising alternative treatments for their condition.
to sign up for Dr. Moss's excellent newsletter.
EA 3rd, Murry DJ, Yoder C, et al. Phase I dose escalation trial
of feverfew with standardized doses of parthenolide in patients
with cancer. Invest New Drugs. 2004;22:299-305
Eschenbach AC. A
vision for the National Cancer Program in the United States.
Nat Rev Cancer. 2004;4:820-8. Retrieved February 22, 2004.
ML, Rossi RM, Karnischky L, et al. The sesquiterpene lactone parthenolide
induces apoptosis of human acute myelogenous leukemia stem and progenitor
cells. Blood. 2005 Feb 1; [Epub ahead of print]
JJ, Heptinstall S, Mitchell JR. Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled
trial of feverfew in migraine prevention. Lancet. 1988;2:189-92
V, Diener HC, Fischer M, et al. The efficacy and safety of Tanacetum
parthenium (feverfew) in migraine prophylaxis--a double-blind, multicentre,
randomized placebo-controlled dose-response study. Cephalalgia.
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