Chamomile Targets Cancer Cells

Posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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Chamomile selectively kills cancer cells and spares normal cells through a process of programmed cell death, or apoptosis by Stephanie Watson

 When you were a child, your mother might have given you a cup of chamomile tea to soothe you to sleep or ease a bellyache. Chamomile has long been used as a natural remedy for conditions ranging from skin infections to indigestion, due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antispasmodic properties. Now, research is finding that this medicinal herb might also prove a powerful tool against cancer.

When researchers tested preparations of chamomile extracts on human prostate cancer and other types of cancer cells in the laboratory, they found that exposure to the herb had a real inhibitory effect on the cells. “We have shown that chamomile is selectively killing cancer cells and sparing normal cells through a process of programmed cell death, or apoptosis,” explains author Sanjay Gupta, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Urology at Case Western Reserve University.

Chamomile contains two active components that might potentially play a role in cancer cell death: a natural antioxidant called apigenin, and essential oils. In this study, it appeared as though apigenin was primarily responsible for the cancer cell inhibition.

The chamomile extract inhibited the growth of most of the cancer cells tested, including prostate and breast cancer cells. This is likely because apigenin acts as an anti-androgen and might also affect hormone regulation, Dr. Gupta says. Androgens are male hormones that stimulate prostate cancer cell growth. The female hormone, estrogen, is involved in breast cancer growth.

Because this study is the first to report the potential anticancer benefits of chamomile, it’s still too early to begin recommending the herb specifically for cancer prevention or treatment. However, this study serves as additional evidence of chamomile’s general health benefits. “People might already be taking chamomile for pleasure, for its nerve relaxing properties, or for other benefits. The idea that chamomile can also be an anticancer agent is an additional benefit,” Dr. Gupta says.

Chamomile is generally safe to take in tea or as a supplement, although it is always recommended to consult with a professional clinician before taking any medicinal herbs.  For example, chamomile can cause mild allergic reactions (such as a rash) in people who are sensitive to daisies and ragweed, because it is a member of the same flower family. Also be wary if you buy chamomile supplements, because you can’t be sure exactly how much apigenin is in them. You can, however, get apigenin from many other natural sources, such as apples, oranges, tea, parsley, and millet.

Dr. Gupta and his colleagues plan to continue their research on chamomile and cancer prevention. Upcoming studies will help to further identify the active components in chamomile, with the goal of eventually developing them into anticancer drugs. Dr. Gupta hopes to begin phase I trials of such drugs within the next three to five years.


Srivastava JK and Gupta S. Antiproliferative and apoptopic effects of chamomile extract in various human cancer cells. J Agric Food Chem, 2007;55:9470-9478.