Recent Discoveries

Ginseng Studied as a Cancer Fighter
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has awarded $6 million over five years to the University of Chicago Medical Center to study the anti-cancer properties of herbal medicines.

Researchers at the center will study the anti-tumor effects of different preparations of the herbs American ginseng and notoginseng, which are widely used but little-studied herbal therapies for a variety of ailments, including prevention and treatment of colon cancer.

Ginseng Juice Eyed as Anti-Diabetic Dietary Supplement 
An extract from American ginseng berry may reduce blood sugar levels by 30% and aid weight loss, reports a new study from the University of Chicago using obese diabetic mice.

In the U.S., there are over 20 million people with diabetes, equal to seven per cent of the population. Results from this study suggest that the hypoglycemic activity of the berry juice may prove to be beneficial in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.

The herb has been gaining popularity in Western societies, finding its way into, for example, energy drinks. In the U.S. it is estimated to be the second top-selling herbal supplement, with $62 million in annual sales last year.

Ginseng Reduces Effects of Anti-Clotting Drug
Researchers from the University of Chicago report in the July 6, 2004, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine that ginseng, one of the best selling herbal supplements in the United States, interferes with warfarin, a drug commonly used to prevent blood clots.

The researchers encourage anyone who takes both ginseng and warfarin, also known as Coumadin®, to notify his or her doctor and urged doctors to ask patients on warfarin if they are taking ginseng.
Media Coverage of Ginseng and Warfarin (PDF)

Ginseng's Potential in the Treatment of Diabetes
Ginseng may yield new treatment options for people who have diabetes, a chronic disease that can cause blindness, kidney failure, and heart disease. Recently, Chun-Su Yuan, MD, PhD, and his colleagues at the Tang Center found that ginseng helped normalize the level of glucose in animals.

An extract of the ginseng plant was given to an obese mouse with diabetes. In just 12 days, the mouse's glucose levels were normalized. In addition, the mouse's body weight was reduced by more than 10%.

The researchers found that some parts of the ginseng plant were more effective than the root. Currently, Yuan and colleagues are testing the pharmacological activity of the single compounds they have isolated from the ginseng plant.
Media Coverage of Ginseng and Diabetes (PDF)

Popular Herbs May Cause Serious Complications Prior to Surgery
While generally safe for healthy people, some common herbal therapies may cause serious problems before, during, or after surgery--including heart attack, excessive bleeding, and problems with anesthesia.

How soon before surgery should you stop taking herbal therapies? In a groundbreaking study, University of Chicago researchers offer specific recommendations for echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginseng, kava, St. John's wort, and valerian.
Media Coverage of Herbal Medicines and Perioperative Care (PDF)

Drug Blocks Opioid Side Effects: Could Improve Palliative Care
More than 250,000 terminal cancer patients each year take opioids, such as morphine, for pain relief. About half of those patients experience severe constipation. The discomfort can be so great that many patients choose to forego the pain relief in order to avoid the constipation.

Methylnaltrexone, a new compound designed to reverse one of the most troubling problems caused by opium-based analgesics without interfering with pain relief, is rapidly effective at low doses with no apparent side effects report researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Chinese Herb Enhances Recovery in Stressed Cells
Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that extracts from the Chinese herb Scutellaria baicalensis, contain powerful antioxidants that can significantly reduce cellular damage due to free radicals-highly reactive compounds that are generated during metabolism and which contribute to the normal wear and tear of the cell.