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En excerpt from the book : 

by Ross, R.Ph. Pelton, Lee Overholser

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IN THE DESERTS of the southwest United States, when the damp breeze that announces an approaching thunderstorm blows across the valleys, it carries the pungent aroma of the common desert shrub chaparral, or the creosote bush.


Chaparral (scientifically called Larrea tridentata or Larrea diver-icata} grows from four to eight feet tall, and has small, dark green leaves and brittle stems. It covers hundreds of square miles in the desert plains and slopes of southern California and Arizona, up to an elevation of five thousand feet. (8) The Cahuilla Indians of the Palm Springs, California, area make a general-health tonic tea from its leaves, which they sweeten with honey. (2)

The medicinal tea is used for many different diseases, from colds to intestinal complaints and cancer. (6) In 1942 scientists at the University of Minnesota isolated nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) as the most significant chemical component of chaparral. (12) NDGA was used to preserve butter in the tropics during World War II, and is used to preserve other fats and oils, because it is a very powerful antioxidant. Dr. Mora, from the University of Auburn in Auburn, Alabama, has found that NDGA attacks bacteria, yeast, viruses, fungi, and cancer cells. He has noted that it does not produce the side effects of other chemotherapeutic agents. (7)

Mechanism of Action

Quinones are a group of pungent-smelling chemicals that have considerable promise as anticancer agents, except that most of them have a narrow range of action and are usually very toxic. An article by Drs. Dean Burk and Mark Woods calls NDGA "the penicillin of quinones," because it has a wide range of anticancer properties and is relatively nontoxic. (3) The authors concluded that NDGA is one of the most potent cancer anti-metabolic agents in laboratory tests, in spite of its low toxicity. In fact, its past use as a preservative for foods and vitamins indicates its overall level of safety.

Their research focused on the finding that cancer cells function anaerobically, which means that they do not use oxygen, and consume enormous quantities of glucose in comparison to normal cells. They found that NDGA produced almost complete inhibition ofanaerobic and aerobic processing of glucose in cancer cells in the test tube.

The Indians of southern California take chaparral tea to prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases, including cancer. Current research seems to provide support for that practice. One group of researchers applied benzoyl peroxide (BPO), a potent carcinogen, to the skin of mice that are prone to developing cancer. (1) They found that NDGA was very effective in preventing the development of abnormal cells. It appears that in this case. since BPO may produce tumors by generating free radicals, the antioxidant action of NDGA stops the tumors from forming.

The effect of NDGA appears to vary according to the type of cancer being investigated. One study of NDGA, on cultured human breast cancer cells (5), showed little effect. Another investigation, on human gastric cells (9), found that NDGA inhibited growth and concluded that it might be useful in the treatment of certain gastrointestinal cancers.

Case Studies

In one dramatic case, a man eighty-five years old underwent four operations for malignant melanoma of the right cheek. (10) The cancer reappeared after each operation, and had spread to his neck. When he saw Dr. Charles Smart at the University of Utah, the lesion measured 3 by 4 centimeters. In light of the poor results from the operations, the patient decided to avoid further surgery and returned home. The patient began taking chaparral tea in November 1967, and by February 1968 the facial lesion had decreased to the size of a dime, and the neck mass had disappeared. In September 1968 he returned to be examined, and by that time the lesion had shrunk to only 2-3 millimeters, and there were no masses in his neck. He looked much better and had gained twenty-five pounds.

Based on this experience, Dr. Smart and his colleagues carried out a study with fifty-nine cancer patients who took chaparral tea. (11) Of these, forty-five completed the study, and four showed significant tumor regressions. Two others showed striking regression of their cancers but were not included in the final tally. Some of the patients showed apparent increase in tumor activity. This is not surprising, since the effects of administering NDGA have been shown to be highly dose dependent. At low doses it can stimulate tumor growth (3), and at higher doses it begins to produce tumor regression. Clearly more research is required to determine optimal dosage levels.

Side Effects and Toxicity

There is a report of a patient who self-administered tablets of chaparral leaf in response to a benign breast lump. (4) The woman took 15 tablets a day, beginning in April 1983. By July she was experiencing nausea, loss of appetite, and gastric pain. By August she had reduced the number of tablets to 1 per day. This cleared up her symptoms. She then increased the dosage, to 7 per day, and experienced even more severe problems. She checked herself into a hospital and was found to be suffering from liver damage. A biopsy showed 60-percent loss of essential liver cells. Fortunately, the patient recovered fully from the liver damage, and was discharged.

Chaparral can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. (11) It is a potentially toxic therapy that should be used only under the supervision of an experienced physician. The FDA recently asked manufacturers and distributors to remove products from the marketplace voluntarily, due to four reported cases of liver toxicity in users of the herb. The details of the cases are not yet available, including the dosage levels and strength of the preparations that were consumed.


The patient eighty-five years old described above who experienced such dramatic tumor regression brewed his tea by adding 7 to 8 grams of chaparral leaves to a quart of hot water. He drank 2 to 3 cups per day. (10) In the follow-up study patients were given 2 to 3 8-ounce glasses of chaparral tea per day. (11) Others took 250 to 3,000 milligrams of the ground leaves orally per day. About a fifth of the patients experienced side effects.

While chaparral and NDGA show considerable promise as anticancer agents, dosage level is very important in producing the desired results. Current research is devoted to discovering how NDGA works, but there is also a strong need to investigate the appropriate dosage levels and the effects of the herb on different cancers.

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