Multiple Myeloma (MM, Kahler’s Disease, or Plasma Cell Myeloma) is a cancer of the white blood cells. With this condition a persons body produces too many abnormal cells in the bone marrow which effectively causes the blood to thicken and tumors may form in the bone. It is a somewhat uncommon cancer, in the US the risk is about .7% or (1 in 143 people). It is generally considered manageable (not curable) with a range of western medicine treatments which may include steroids, chemotherapy, possibly stem cell transplants, etc. Survival by western management methods is generally around 5 years.
It may often start with very limited signs, possibly just fatigue and anemia and as it is most common over 50 years of age these relatively subtle findings can be dismissed initially. As it progresses, however, people may experience kidney disease, bone pain/fractures, infections, and more complications.
Generally speaking management with western medicine can have many difficult side effects and this may complicate the overall patient experience with the disease. The case study I am discussing today is of a woman diagnosed at age 49 with multiple myeloma who after undergoing western treatments for about one year discontinued them in favor of a full TCM approach. Her decision was largely due to multiple side effects that were untenable for her.
The study comes from the International Jingfang Institute within the Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine in Nanjing China. In TCM terms multiple myeloma may fall under the Xue Bi diagnostic pattern which effectively means “blood painful obstruction”. This is a pattern that effectively starts with a weakness in what we would call the “blood” (or “xue”) which has more meaning than just our blood in western terms, which then allows “cold” or stagnating forces to enter deeply into the body which can create a range of issues from neuropathy, pain, paralysis, and more depending on other factors. The treatment in Chinese Medicine terms is to warm interior cold and warm and disperse cold in the channels.
One of the important formulas for “blood painful obstruction” is called Huang Qi Gui Zhi Wu Wu Wan or the “Astragalus and Cinnamon Five Herb Decoction”. As the name would indicate two of the most important herbs in the formula are huang qi (or “astragalus”) and gui zhi (or “cinnamon”). In Chinese Herbal Medicine terms huang qi will tonify the qi, more specifically the defensive layer of the body or “wei qi” which is in some ways the initial functions of the immune system which keep us from getting sick to begin with. Gui Zhi will release exterior cold in TCM terms which functionally pushes out the influences that are causing disease.
The woman in this case report has been on a slightly modified version of Huang Qi Gui Zhi Wu Wu Tang for the last 18 years and her symptoms are all under control. Modifications involve greatly increasing the amount of huang qi (astragalus) if her symptoms seem to increase and lowering it when they stabilize. According to the authors of the report, “throughout this time she has experienced no obvious side effects and her overall health is stable.”
The authors, based on other clinical research of the herbal ingredients, feel that astragalus promotes the proliferation of denritic cells which effectively help offer to the immune system what is a friend or a foe in the body. They also discussed how astragalus may regulate the microenvironment of the bone marrow by inhibiting inflammatory markers and promoting the process of bone growth.
They conclude the case report by saying that larger scale clinical trials are called for to look at the use of astragalus alone and/or in formulas such as the one presented here in the treatment of multiple myeloma.
This is one of the rarer types of clinical reports published in medical journals as it follows an individual for such a long period of time. While not the quickest way to get answers, these types of studies from both western and eastern researchers should be increased in my opinion as they better account for the full range of the patient experience. The lack of side effects and tremendously low cost of this TCM treatment method should also be considered strongly as health care costs, particularly for cancer treatments, can be very disruptive to families in many parts of the world.