Nature rescuing man from his own undoingBy Rafael Castillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
We wrote in a previous column about the potential for guyabano or soursop as an anti-cancer fruit. Emil Dela Cruz, senior writer of H&L (Health & Lifestyle) magazine informed me of a local research validating this. It also studied several other indigenous plants, fruits and herbs.
Dr. Sonia Jacinto, an anti-cancer natural products professor from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, conducted the research.
The research, titled “Philippine Plants Showing Cytotoxic Activity to Selected Human Cancer Cell lines” aimed to identify and isolate compounds responsible for the cancer-killing action of the plant extracts.
Dr. Jacinto and her team of researchers cultured cancer cells in the laboratory and treated it with the plant extracts to find out its impact on cancer cell growth. “If they grow, then the study is unsuccessful. If it dies, it is a good sign that we can proceed to the next stage,” Emil quoted Dr. Jacinto in his report.
According to Dr. Jacinto, there are already promising findings from the plant Annona Squamosa, commonly known as the atis. The doctor added that Annona Squamosa is a close relative of Annona Muricata, or the guyabano which is known to be rich in Murihexocin C, an anti-cancer agent.
Aside from atis and guyabano, akapulko, or the Cassia Alata, a herbal medicine with antimicrobial properties, also showed anticancer potential. Dr. Jacinto’s research group, tested akapulko’s cancer-killing properties against several cancer cell lines, and found it favorable and promising.
In identifying the active compound responsible for the anti-cancer effects, the research team has isolated a mixture of polyunsaturated fatty acid esters that may be the key substrate which pharmaceutical companies can try to develop into cancer chemotherapeutic agents.
Dr. Jacinto’s group also found the Calotropis Gigantea or the kapal-kapal showing strong anticancer properties particularly for cells causing colon cancer, lung nonsmall cell adenocarcinoma, liver cancer, chronic myelogenous leukemia and human gastric cancer cell lines. The research team identified the ethanolic extract from the kapal-kapal’s roots as showing inhibitory effects versus these different cancer cells.
The plant is commonly used for ornamentals. Rural folks also use the plant for medicinal purposes, as a dry fomentation for abdominal pain.
Dr. Jacinto’s team continues to research on other indigenous plants and herbs and evaluate their anticancer potential. She’s encouraging other Filipino scientists to conduct similar researches on plants which might eventually turn into a breakthrough anticancer chemotherapeutic agent later on.
The medical community welcomes researches like what Dr. Jacinto is doing. Although it’s still a long way off until we can really say that these plants, herbs and fruits have clinically meaningful anticancer effects, most medical breakthroughs start with basic research in the laboratory.
Intuitively, one can say that since these are naturally derived products, the side effects or reactions would be much less than the potent, synthetically prepared anticancer drugs. The potential for toxicity would be much less with naturally derived preparations. But again, all these basic researchers have shown is the potential for these indigenous plants and fruits for cancer therapy. We have to wait until it has passed the stringent process of drug development—up to the clinical trial phase—to ascertain their efficacy and safety.
The government should support these local researches and through the Philippine FDA, it should discourage enterprising businessmen from exploiting these preliminary results to market their expensive products derived from these plants and herbs.
Personally, I find nothing wrong for those with cancer who take these natural plants and herbs but they should not discontinue whatever tried-and-tested drugs and interventions their oncologists or cancer experts have recommended for them. They should also tell their physicians whatever natural products they’re taking as there might be occasional food-drug or plant-drug interactions.
Aside from genetics, cancer can also be the result of man’s folly—because of the reckless modern lifestyle he lives. If the results of these basic laboratory researches are finally proven someday to be clinically meaningful and relevant, it’s amazing to know how nature tries to come to the rescue of man, to save him from his own undoing.
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