Extracts of common herbs were introduced into cancer cell cultures followed by ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and copper sulfate (CuSO4). The result was the death of most of the cancer cells. This fascinating article discusses this new research.
The same unstable molecules that may cause cells to turn cancerous can be harnessed to treat cancer, and researchers are finding that natural herbal pigments are an effective catalyst to produce these cancer-killing molecules, according to a study in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The treatment is called catalytic therapy (CT), and it exploits the same reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage DNA in normal cells to the point that they turn cancerous. “We use the same quality in cancer therapy, but in catalytic therapy ROS harm only cancer cells,” says lead study author Nadejda Rozanova, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “And it is because the concentration of catalytic therapy agents is much higher in cancer cells than in normal cells. There is no ROS production in normal cells with these concentrations of CT agents.”
Catalytic therapy produces ROS through a chemical reaction in which one chemical is used as a catalyst and another chemical reacts to it. Often the catalyst is a metal, such as Co phthalocyanine (PcCo), and the reactant is ascorbate (vitamin C). These components are harmless by themselves, but together in the right concentration they work like a binary weapon and destroy cancer cells. Various catalyst-reactant combinations have been investigated, but in this study, researchers wanted to find out whether natural herbal pigments would be an effective enough catalyst to kill cancer cells. They tested pigments from the herbs St. John’s Wort, Bilberry, and Blue Malva on human breast cancer and mouse skin cancer cells. Ascorbic acid was used to trigger the chemical reaction.
When the herbal pigments were used alone, they had little effect on the cancer cells. But when those same pigments were activated by ascorbic acid, the resulting chemical reaction led to a dramatic reduction in cancer cells. Catalytic therapy critically damaged cancer cells, suppressed tumor growth, and led to the natural process of programmed cell death known as apoptosis.
After just one treatment with catalytic therapy, between 23 and 39 percent of the cancer cells were killed, and about 18 percent of the cells began the process of apoptosis—which meant they were beginning to die. “After two to three treatments, 100 percent of the cancer cells will be dead,” says Dr. Rozanova. “So I think that this is a promising cancer therapy.”
So far researchers have only tested catalytic therapy in a laboratory. The next step is to determine how to deliver this therapy directly to tumors in a high enough concentration to kill cancer cells in the body. Dr. Rozanova’s team is hoping to develop a guided delivery system that would transport the components of catalytic therapy to the cancer without compromising any of the therapy’s potency. They are confident that this system will be effective, because they have already developed a similar system for photodynamic therapy, a treatment that uses a light-activated chemical to kill cancer cells, Dr. Rozanova says.
This research is still in the early stages. If you are interested in using herbal and/or vitamin therapies be sure to work with a licensed healthcare practitioner.
Rozanova N, Zhang JZ, Heck DE. Catalytic therapy of cancer with ascorbate and extracts of medicinal herbs. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. eCam, December 26, 2007.