The flower that keeps tumors from growing

A good friend of mine was recently in the hospital. Thankfully it was nothing life-threatening and her stay was short. Still, when we spoke by phone she was a little down. The food was terrible, the TV reception bad and the view from her window was a brick wall.

So to cheer her up I sent a lovely arrangement of bright orange and yellow daisies. She said it made her day. More importantly, she said it made her feel better.

Beautiful flowers do make us feel better, and everyone — even states — has a favorite.

Well, I wonder how many state flowers can be said to be beautiful and defend against cancer?

At least one: The magnolia, the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana contains honokiol, a compound found in the plant’s seed cones that cuts off the growth of blood vessels that feed cancer cells.

The use of magnolia as a therapy for fatigue, fever, cough, digestive difficulties, depression, headaches and other ills has a long tradition that stretches back more than 2,000 years. Now researchers have identified a chemical that protects against tumors in this beautiful and helpful plant.

Lab tests at the Emory University School of Medicine show that honokiol shuts down a process called angiogenesis (cancerous blood vessel development) and can limit tumor growth by 50 percent.

When tumors start to grow, they are limited in how big they can get unless they latch onto new blood vessels that give them the nutrients and oxygen they need to expand. That’s why life-threatening cancer growths release signals that order the body to send new vessels their way.

But honokiol disrupts these supply lines by convincing endothelial cells, the cells that line the new vessels, to self-destruct — a process called apoptosis.

Plus, along with inhibiting the spread of blood vessels, honokiol may activate the body’s own tumor defenses, leading to extra production of a protein that directly causes the cancer cells to destroy themselves.

Magnolia may be particularly effective in fighting head and neck cancer. In these cases, a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows, it shuts down the supply of a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a substance these cancers need in order to spread.

According to the Alabama researchers: “Conclusively, honokiol appears to be an attractive bioactive small molecule phytochemical for the management of head and neck cancer which can be used either alone or in combination with other available therapeutic drugs.”

A cynic might ask why it is that researchers have taken so long to investigate herbs like honokiol that have been used for healing by herbalists for thousands of years. But if you’re a “glass is half full” kind of person, you can be grateful that conventional doctors and researchers are finally beginning to understand the power of herbal medicine.

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.