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How Do You Cure Cancer - Phytomedicines & Natural Remedies

Updated on December 8, 2013
A cheap, easy, side-effect free cure for cancer...right? Not quite.
A cheap, easy, side-effect free cure for cancer...right? Not quite.

Nature's Pharmacopia

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Taxanes (Docetaxel, Paclitaxel, Taxol) are derived from the Yew TreeCommiphora Species give us ElemeneThe humble periwinkle is the source of Vinca Alkaloids such as VincristineThe American Mayapple gives us Etoposide - one of the EpipodophyllotoxinsStreptomyces species give us Actinomycin and BleomycinTrees of the Tabebuia genus provide us with LapachoneThalicarpin was derived from the Laurel Leaf CocculusCamptothecin comes from the Happy Tree, Camptotheca acuminita
Taxanes (Docetaxel, Paclitaxel, Taxol) are derived from the Yew Tree
Taxanes (Docetaxel, Paclitaxel, Taxol) are derived from the Yew Tree
Commiphora Species give us Elemene
Commiphora Species give us Elemene
The humble periwinkle is the source of Vinca Alkaloids such as Vincristine
The humble periwinkle is the source of Vinca Alkaloids such as Vincristine
The American Mayapple gives us Etoposide - one of the Epipodophyllotoxins
The American Mayapple gives us Etoposide - one of the Epipodophyllotoxins
Streptomyces species give us Actinomycin and Bleomycin
Streptomyces species give us Actinomycin and Bleomycin
Trees of the Tabebuia genus provide us with Lapachone
Trees of the Tabebuia genus provide us with Lapachone
Thalicarpin was derived from the Laurel Leaf Cocculus
Thalicarpin was derived from the Laurel Leaf Cocculus
Camptothecin comes from the Happy Tree, Camptotheca acuminita
Camptothecin comes from the Happy Tree, Camptotheca acuminita

Cancer Therapy

Type "Cancer cures" into Google and hit enter: you will be met with 31,500,000 hits. Many of the high ranking hits on this topic link to sites talking about 'natural cures for cancer,' or 'alternative cures for cancer' or maybe 'Holistic cancer treatments' Scientific bunkum at worst, placebo effect at best...right?

Or is it...

Let me clarify. This hub is NOT another page proclaiming that a simple herb or diet regimen will cure your cancer (on a sidenote, a healthy, balanced diet can significantly reduce your risk of contracting many types of cancer). I am hoping to address an altogether different problem. Proponents of alternative medicine usually state that their therapies are 'natural,' implying that mainstream medicine bypasses nature entirely. This series looks to dispel that myth by examining the history of Phytomedicine

Why is this needed? Due to a lack of scientific literacy amongst a sizeable chunk of the general public, there is a lot of misinformation about cancer...as the video below demonstrates. These are things that the Daily Mail has stated cause cancer:

Misinformation

The History of 'Natural Medicine'

The oldest medicinal text in existence was written around 2600BC in cuneiform on hundreds of clay tablets, and comes from ancient Mesopotamia. It describes more than 1000 plant and plant-derived substances and their therapeutic uses.

Traditional medicine systems such as Chinese traditional medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine have been in use for thousands of years, and remain a vital player in global health care. The World Health Organisation estimate that around 80% of the global population rely mainly on traditional medicines for their primary health care (Newman, Cragg and Snader, 1999). Natural products are also seen as crucial for the remaining 20% of the world’s population. Indeed, Ji, et al., (2009) reflect on the fact that “it has only been during the past [few] decades that natural products have taken a secondary role in drug discovery and drug development.”

There is no escaping natural products as a therapy. It is common sense that conventional medicine has evolved from so-called Traditional therapies. Science tested traditional or natural medicines - those that worked were kept and used, those that did not work were cast aside. The next part of this series will examine why it is disingenuous to imply that conventional medicine is somehow 'detached' from nature. We shall also look at why 'natural' does not necessarily equal 'better' or safer.

Why do Natural Products Cure Cancer?

Why is nature such a commodious source of new candidates for therapeutic compounds? In short, it is due to the enormous chemical diversity found in the natural world. This diversity is a result of millennia of selection for, and conservation of, self defence mechanisms to repel or kill predators/pathogens. This is why Plants in particular have developed a sophisticated toxic chemical arsenal!

Hopefully this hub has banished the thought that conventional therapy is isolated from nature. Why reinvent the wheel when nature has been busy inventing, tinkering and deployingchemical weapons for millenia?

The next part of the series will investigate why natural does not necessarily mean safe, or better.

Why would Conventional Therapy be 'Unnatural'!?

The 1990s saw a change of methodology for identifying novel therapeutic compounds for development: pharmaceutical companies decided to concentrate their research efforts on combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput screening, rather than taking inspiration from the natural world. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry concentrated so intently on high throughput screening, rather than using natural products as a basis, that it has (at least in part) resulted in a huge decline in the numbers of original drug candidates in development.Chemists are now turning their attention back to 'Nature's Toolbox' as a source of inspiration for new drugs, using combinatorial chemistry and HTS to search for new drug candidates.

Where do Antineoplastics come from?

Without a doubt, natural products have made a substantial contribution to the area of antineoplastics, either as direct treatments or as templates (Newman et al., 1999). Taxanes, Vinca Alkaloids, Epipodophyllotoxins and Flavones show, through various modes of action, impressive anti-tumour activity. Plants are not the only chemical quartermasters in our fight against disease. Microbe-derived anti-tumour antibiotics, such as Actinomycin and Bleomycin are among the most important cancer chemotherapeutic agents in use.

Each of the photos at the top of this page depicts a living organism that has contributed at least one new chemotherapeutic drug. In some cases, whole new classes of antineoplastic have been provided by a single group of plants. It is not too much of a stretch to state that the use of natural agents has changed the course of cancer treatment.

In addition to the compounds mentioned in the photos there are a plethora of anti-cancer drugs that are derived from natural products:

  • Epirubicin
  • Rapamycin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Topotecan

As a review written by Newman and Cragg in 2007 shows, it would be difficult to select a mainstream anticancer therapy that was completely unrelated to natural products.

References

Newman D J, Cragg G M, and Snader K M (1999) The influence of natural products upon drug discovery. Natural Product Reports 17: 215-234.

Ji H-F, Li X-J, and Zhang H-Y (2009) Natural products and drug discovery. EMBO reports 10: 194-200.

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