TCM’s most promising cancer and inflammation fighter

Over the past decade, a powerful bioflavonoid found naturally in plants, herbs, and vegetables known as luteolin, has been gaining ground in research studies as a potential “big gun” in the treatment and prevention of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis RS), cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and others. Even though luteolin is a ‘new kid’ in Western medicine, it has been consumed as part of a natural and whole diet and used in herbal formulae for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Luteolin and diet

In last week’s story I summarized several studies in which Luteolin was consumed in ample quantity via a diet high in whole foods containing the powerful bioflavonoid. While consuming foods containing luteolin cannot cure cancer or other diseases, they can help prevent the diseases, slow their onset and even reduce their severity.

To begin, age-related inflammation in the brain is associated with a host of damaging diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Consuming foods high in luteolin can help reduce that inflammation and help prevent its return. Luteolin-rich foods also help reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and, due to its ability to help regulate blood sugar, it can improve insulin sensitivity to help prevent type II diabetes.

24 foods rich in luteolin

The best way to get enough luteolin in your diet is to consume as many whole foods rich in the bioflavonoid as you can with every meal. This list includes:

  • Artichoke leaves
  • Basil
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Celery hearts (higher than celery stalk)
  • Chamomile tea
  • Gourd, dishcloth
  • Peppers (green, jalapeno, sweet)
  • Kale, Chinese
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lemons
  • Lettuce
  • Olive oil
  • Parsley
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Rutabagas
  • Sage
  • Spinach
  • Thyme
  • Water spinach

Luteolin and TCM

Many of the studies on luteolin involve its potential application in cancer treatment and prevention. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) contains within its pharmacopeia many herbs that contain this element.

The trick here, though, is not to run out and grab TCM herbal formulas that contain herbs that possess luteolin and think this, alone, will help. It may, but it may not. The rationale behind the prescription of Chinese herbals is not based on a “single herb / application” model, as is Western medicine. Rather, TCM herbs are used in concert, one formula containing several and even a dozen different herbs together, for a broader synergistic approach. The theory is based on something like cancer is a symptom, and its root causes need be treated alongside its symptoms. As such, it is recommended that one seek a proper “TCM pattern diagnosis” before using TCM herbals for anything.

One of my mentors, Dr. Robert Chu of Pasadena, CA, is an expert in treating cancer patients with acupuncture and TCM herbs. I recently spoke with Robert about luteolin and TCM, and wanted to share some of our conversation with you here.

What herbs in TCM include Luteolin?

Many Chinese herbs include the nutrient Luteolin, including: Ju Hua, Ye Ju Hua, Man Jing Zi, Fu Ping, Dang Shen, Bo He, Ku Shen, Jin Yin Hua, Bai Guo, Nu Zhen Zi, Yin Yang Huo, Ban Zhi Lian, Qing Hao, Bian Xu, Shi Wei, Luo Shi Teng, Xuan Fu Hua, Xian He Cao.

What are the actions of a few of these herbs individually?

I’ll mention some of the more well-known ones:

  • Bai Guo (gingko nut) is used for getting rid of phlegm and also for memory issues.
  • Yin Yang Huo (horny goat weed) is used as an aphrodisiac.
  • Ju Hua (chrysanthemum) is typically drunk as a tea to help reduce interior body heat, aid digestion and also benefits the eyes.
  • Dan Shen (red sage) is used blood building formula and is used for anemia, angina and stroke.
  • Ban Zhi Lian (skull cap) is a famous herb that has anti-cancer capabilities and destroys cancer cells.
  • Qing Hao (wormwood) has come into much repute lately as it is a major herb used in the treatment of malaria and the Doctor Youyou Tu, who extracted it from Sweet Wormwood (Artemisia annua), recently won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Regarding luteolin, what is the biggest difference between how Western pharmacology and Chinese herbology approach the nutrient?

Chinese Herbalists don’t prescribe herbs because it has a pharmacological substance. We carefully combine herbs to have a synergistic effect, and to avoid toxicity, and have been used in clinics for centuries. They are prescribed by basic functions that cause the body to react in a certain way. Having the pharmacological compound, luteolin, would be the last reason of why I would prescribe an herb in a particular herbal Rx.

In your extensive treatment of cancer patients, have you used luteolin-containing herbs, and what has been the result?

In some cancer patients, they have low sexual desire, after chemo and other treatments, so a good formula would contain the Yin Yang Huo herb to strengthen libido. In other cancer patients, due to chemotherapy, they become anemic, or have hair loss, so a formula containing Dan Shen would be advisable.  Ban Zhi Lian is often added to formulas for cancer patients to strengthen their immune system.

As I said before, it would be because the herb as a whole has many functions, rather than its biochemical agents, that we choose it for effect on the body.


While some research shows that you cannot beat a cancer tumor simply by consuming foods containing luteolin, the Korean studies mentioned in last week’s story showed that you can greatly improve your chances of preventing cancer and limiting its growth if you now have it through a diet rich in luteolin-containing foods.

Additionally, you may consider turning to traditional Chinese medicine for herbal formulas containing luteolin, after a proper “pattern” diagnosis has been made. In all cases, is seems like luteolin in its many natural forms, and perhaps in its pharmaceutical forms in the near future, may be the best bet for cancer prevention and treatment, and reduction of age-related inflammation-induced diseases.


Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.