Cancer has affected humans throughout the history of civilisation. One of the earliest deciphered descriptions of cancer predates the ancient Egyptian manuscripts in 1600 BC. Today cancer is the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases. For centuries, humans have been searching for the ultimate cure for cancer and the best cancer treatments accepted in standard guidelines are mostly surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
However, we can now all agree that the best solution to combating any type of disease is prevention. How exactly can we stay healthy? The more important question is how do we continue to prevent the second cause of death?
Many people tend to put an emphasis on their diet as a way to prevent cancer since it is perceived to be the easiest factor to control. As we travel around the world, we will find different species of plants that are indigenous to the area and that possess anti-cancer activities with different mechanisms. The following are five examples of anti-cancer plants to help you prevent cancer:
Turmeric is native to South East Asia and belongs to the ginger family. The main constituent found in turmeric is curcumin, which is responsible for the plant’s yellow colour. Curcumin contains properties that affect cancer at several points in its lifecycle. The most notable effect is its ability to block inflammation at the level of the DNA. Curcumin also has the ability to block growth factors contributing to the proliferation of cancer and block metastasis by impeding the adhesion of molecules.
Noni is a fruit found in tropical countries and mostly in South East Asia and Northern Australia. It is believed that the fruit was brought along with the Pacific Islanders during their canoe voyages. The benefits of noni were attributed to a molecule called damnacanthal, which inhibits an enzyme called c-Met. It activates proliferation, angiogenesis, and metastasis of cancer cells. Aside from being a cancer killer, the noni fruit also contains other constituents with a high antioxidant activity to quench the free radicals we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Taheebo or pau d’arco is a plant indigenous to Central America and South America. Traditionally it has been used to treat a number of ailments including infections, digestive complaints, and fever. The main constituent, lapachol, has been shown to inhibit an enzyme, DNA topoisomerase, that is responsible for unwinding the DNA prior to replicating DNA. Lapachol selectively attacks the cancer cells unlike chemotherapy that would destroy both normal and abnormal cells.
Coffea is a plant commonly known for the brewed drink, coffee, used globally as a stimulant and a recreational beverage. The coffea plant is native to Africa but can now be cultivated in many tropical countries. The caffeine found in coffee is metabolised by the liver into theobromine, which is an active component that inhibits angiogenesis by decreasing the production of VEGF, a signal used by cancer cells to create blood vessels.
5. Green tea
Green tea is derived from the plant Camellia sinensis, which originated from ancient China. Tea has been known to contain polyphenols, which are responsible for the antioxidant activities. Green tea specifically undergoes the process of oxidation differently from white tea and black tea allowing it to have a higher anti-cancer activity than its other forms.
One of the most abundant and powerful constituents found in green tea responsible for the anti-cancer action is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG not only affects cancer cells via several mechanisms including its ability to retard cancer growth and decrease inflammation at the genetic level, it also activates a gene called p53, which is responsible for telling the cancer cell to terminate itself.
These five plants are only a glimpse of the botanical medicine repertoire used to prevent and treat cancer. They attack the cancer cells without suppressing the immune system like the way conventional treatments would.
We need to respect the immune system’s role in fighting cancer and integrate all aspects from botanical medicine, diet, and pharmaceuticals to treat cancer. Because cancer cells are always evolving, we will have to be one step ahead of the intelligently designed cells. We need to destroy the cancer cell whilst leaving the immune system strong enough to continue to protect the body beyond the treatment duration.