With people around the world struggling with cancer or dealing with the side effects of traditional cancer therapy, the answer may lie in the Amazon rainforest to relieve your pain and suffering. Inside this plant and oxygen mecca lies untold amounts of herbs that can help alleviate all kinds of conditions. When used sustainably, we can utilize the rainforest in a beneficial way that saves it from rapid deforestation for other interests (like oil drilling), and create natural medicines that can heal mankind. These are just 5 rainforest herbs that fight cancer, but surely there are many more identified, and many more to come.
Cat’s claw (also known as una de gato) is a large woody vine that grows in the Amazon rainforest that derives its name from hook-like thorns that grow along the vine and resemble the claws of a cat.
Cat’s claw has been used in Peru and Europe as early as the 1990s as an adjunctive treatment for cancer, as well as for other diseases that target the immune system. It has several groups of plant chemicals that account for its action, the most studied group being oxidole alkaloids, which have been documented to have immune-stimulant and anti-leukemic properties.
Research and studies on cat’s claw that document its positive effect against cancer includes:
Italian researchers reported in a 2001 in vitro study that cat’s claw directly inhibited the growth of a human breast cancer cell line by 90%.
Swedish researchers documented that it inhibited the growth of lymphoma and leukemia cells in vitro in 1998.
Reports on Keplinger’s observatory trials showed that cancer patients taking cat’s claw in conjunction with traditional therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, reported fewer side effects like hair loss, weight loss, nausea and secondary infections.
Subsequent researchers have shown that cat’s claw can aid in DNA cellular repair and prevent cells from mutating, and can also help prevent loss of white blood cells and immune cell damage caused by many chemotherapy drugs.
When using cat’s claw, one also has to be aware of potential contraindications, such as:
Before or following any organ or bone marrow transplant or skin graft
Medications intended to suppress the immune system
Women seeking to get pregnant
Blood thinning drugs such as coumadin
Large doses that can cause abdominal pain or gastrointestinal problems
Cat’s claw has also been shown to kill viruses, fight free radicals and reduce inflammation.
Graviola is a small, upright evergreen tree about 5-6 meters high with large, glossy, dark green leaves.
A novel set of chemicals called Annonaceous acetogenins, found in the leaf, stem, bark and fruit seeds, have been confirmed by three separate research groups to have significant anti-tumorous properties and selective toxicity against various types of cancer cells (without harming healthy cells), at very low doses.
Research and studies on graviola that document its positive effect against cancer includes:
In 1997, Purdue University published information which found that this novel set of chemicals in graviola not only are effective in killing tumors that have proven resistant to anti-cancer agents but also seem to have an affinity for such resistant cells. This means that those cells with multi-drug resistance (MDR) can effectively be killed by acetogenins, with reports that they preferentially destroyed MDR cells by blocking the transfer of ATP — the chief source of cellular energy — into them.
In a 1976 plant-screening program by the National Cancer Institute, graviola leaves and stems showed toxicity against cancer cells, and specific acetogenins have been reported to be selectively toxic in vitro to the following types of tumor cells: lung carcinoma, human breast, prostate adenocarcinoma, pancreatic carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, liver cancer cell lines, human lymphoma and MDR human breast adenocarcinoma.
Researchers in Taiwan reported in 2003 that the main graviola acetogenin, annonacin, was highly toxic to ovarian, cervical, breast, bladder, and skin cancer at very low dosages.
When using graviola, one also has to be aware of potential contraindications, such as uterine stimulant activity (avoid during pregnancy) and lowering blood pressure.
Graviola has also been known to kill bacteria, parasites and viruses as well as stimulate digestion and relieve depression.
Sangre de grado
Sangre de grado is a medium to large sized tree that grows up to 20m high in the upper Amazon region of Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. It has large, heart shaped, bright green leaves and unique, greenish-white flowers on long stalks. Its Peruvian name means “blood of the dragon”, and in Ecuador it is called sangre de drago. When the tree is cut it oozes a dark red sappy resin, as if the tree is bleeding.
Sangre de grado resin or sap is a storehouse of phytochemicals, including proanthocyanidins (antioxidants), simple phenols, diterpenes, phytosterols, and biologically active alkaloids and lignans. Scientists have attributed many of the biologically active properties of the sap to two main active constituents: an alkaloid named taspine and lignan named dimethylcedrusine.
The taspine alkaloid from sangre de grade was first documented with anti-inflammatory actions in 1979. In 1985, it was documented with anti-inflammatory, anti-tumerous (against sarcomas), and anti-viral actions.
In 2000, a study for its gastrointestinal effects showed that sangre de grado is a potent treatment for gastrointestinal ulcers and distress via antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions. In 2002, these same researchers reported that it had an in vitro effect against stomach cancer and colon cancers as well. In 2003, Italian researchers reported that the resin inhibited the growth of a human myelgenous leukemia cell line and also prevented cells from mutating in test tube studies.
Sangre de grado is also well known for healing wounds, stopping bleeding, killing bacteria, germs, fungi, and viruses; as well as relieving itching and diarrhea.
Pau D’Arco is a huge canopy tree native to the Amazon rainforest and other tropical parts of South and Latin America. It grows to be 30m high and the base can be 6-10ft in diameter.
Pau D’Arco has a long history in herbal medicine around the world, and the chemical constituents and active ingredients have been well documented. The plant contains a large amount of chemicals known as quinoids, and a small quantity of benzenoids and flavonoids. In the 1960’s plant extracts of the heartwood and bark demonstrated marked anti-tumorous effects on animals which drew the interest of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Researchers decided that the most potent single chemical in this activity was named lapachol, and they concentrated on this sole chemical in their subsequent cancer research.
In a small, uncontrolled 1980 study of nine human patients with various cancers (liver, kidney, breast, prostate, and cervix), pure lapachol was reported to shrink tumours and reduce pain caused by them, and 3 of the patients realized complete remissions.
Another chemical in Pau D’Arco, beta lapachone, was cited to have significant anti-cancerous activity against human cancer cell lines, including: promyelocytic leukemia, prostate, malignant glioma, colon, hepatoma, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, multiple myeloma cell lines, and drug resistant cell lines.
Pau D’Arco is also known for killing bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites as well as relieving pain and reducing inflammation.
Espinheira santa is a small, shrubby evergreen tree growing to 5m in height with leaves and berries that resemble holly. It is native to many parts of South America and southern Brazil and is even found in city landscapes for its attractive, holly like appearance.
Espinheira santa is a source for a group of well known chemicals (found in the leaf, bark and roots of the tree) called maytansinoids. These chemicals represent a class of substances that have been studied since the early 1970’s for their anti-tumorous and anti-cancerous activities and have been developed into chemotherapy drugs. Another class of chemicals found in espinheira santa called cangorins, have also shown significant anti-tumorous, anti-leukemic, and anti-cancerous properties.
In 1976 a plant screening program by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), an alcohol and water extract of the leaves were documented with toxicity to cancer cells at very low dosages. Two of the chemicals, named maytansine and mayteine, were extracted and tested in cancer patients in the United Sates and South America, and although there was some significant regressions in ovarian carcinoma and some lymphomas with maytansine, further research was not continued due to toxicity at the dosages used. However, research with the compound mayteine revealed little to no toxicity and validated its use in traditional medicine for various types of skin cancers.
Espinheria santa is also known for its ability to reduce acid and prevent ulcers, as well aid in digestion.
Sources for this article include:
Taylor, Leslie, ND. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs: A Guide to Understanding and Using Herbal Medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One, 2005. Print.