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The Health Benefits of Sutherlandia, the Amazing Cancer Bush from South Africa

Updated on October 10, 2011
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Robert writes articles about emerging medical discoveries with a focus on the health benefits of natural remedies and ingredients.

The Sutherlandia "Cancer Bush". Image is licensed licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
The Sutherlandia "Cancer Bush". Image is licensed licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. | Source

What is Sutherlandia?

Sutherlandia frutescens is a herb that grows in South Africa and Botswana. Mature plants grow into one foot tall shrubs with pretty leaves and attractive red flowers. Sutherlandia is valued bothe as an ornamental plant and as a cure-all immunity booster by the local indigenous people.

Traditional Uses of Sutherlandia in Folk Medicine

Sutherlandia frutescens is a South African herb used traditionally by the natives to treat a number of ailments including:

  • cancer, which is the reason for its local nickname as the "cancer bush"
  • to help improve the overall health of patients suffering from HIV/Aids
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • as a pain reliever
  • to fight viral infections
  • to reduce inflammation

In recent years, Sutherlandia has gained popularity as an alternative cancer treatment outside of South Africa.

What Are the Health Benefits of Sutherlandia?

There have been a number of studies into the health benefits of Sutherlandia. Scientists have been especially interested in determining whether this plant can actually fight aids, diabetes, cancer and a host of other dreaded diseases.

Here is a summary of research into Sutherlandia's health benefits as published in various peer reviewed journals:

  • A paper entitled "In vitro culture studies of Sutherlandia frutescens on human tumor cell lines", published in the Journal of of Ethnopharmacology, 2004 Jul;93(1):9-19 found that sutherlandia inhibited the proliferation of specific cancer cells by as much as fifty percent. This study only tested sutherlandia in vitro, which is to say in a test tube, and did not use animals or humans.
  • A study published in Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Jul-Aug;26(6):409-16. found that sutherlandia frutescens had anti-inflammatory (reduces inflamation), analgesic (is a painkiller) and lowered blood sugar levels. The researches concluded that the experimental testing lent credence to the traditional medical uses of this plant as a treatment for arthritis and type 2 diabetes.\
  • In "The antioxidant potential of Sutherlandia frutescens" published in J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Nov;95(1):1-5., researchers at the University of South Africa concluded that the plant has strong anti-oxidant activities which may explain its reported effectiveness in treating inflammation.
  • In "Anti-HIV activities of organic and aqueous extracts of Sutherlandia frutescens and Lobostemon trigonus" J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Jan 4;96(1-2):113-9. researchers published the results of testing to determine if sutherlandia as well as another local plant called Lobostemon had any effect on the HIV/AIDS virus, as claimed by the natives and traditional folk medicine. The researchers concluded that "The study shows that Sutherlandia extracts contain inhibitory compounds active against HIV target enzymes, while aqueous Lobostemon leaf extracts contain a potent HIV-1 RT inhibitor, thus showing a potential mechanistic action of these plants in aiding HIV-positive patients."
  • A study conducted by the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University in Ontario, Canada conducted research relevant to determining Sutherlandia's usefulness in fighting AIDS. Their research was published in an article entitled "Impact of African herbal medicines on antiretroviral metabolism" in the journal AIDS. 2005 Jan 3;19(1):95-7. concluded that: "Sutherlandia showed significant effects on cytochrome P450 3A4 metabolism and activated the pregnane X receptor approximately twofold. P-glycoprotein expression was inhibited, with Hypoxis showing 42-51% and Sutherlandia showing 19-31% of activity compared with verapamil. Initiating policies to provide herbal medicines with antiretroviral agents may put patients at risk of treatment failure, viral resistance or drug toxicity."
  • In a study at the University of South Korea published as "Inhibitory effects of the extracts of Sutherlandia frutescens (L.) R. Br. and Harpagophytum procumbens DC. on phorbol ester-induced COX-2 expression in mouse skin: AP-1 and CREB as potential upstream targets." in Cancer Lett. 2005 Jan 31;218(1):21-31 concluded that compounds made from Sutherlandia as well as another plant commonly known as Devil's Claw inhibited certain cell activities associated with cancer spread.
  • A study has confirmed that Sutherlandia frutescens extracts can kill carcinoma cells. It concluded that "These findings warrant further research with a view to develop Sutherlandia frutescens extracts for use in anti-cancer therapy." -- See: J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Apr 8;98(1-2):163-70. It should be noted that this study only looked at the effect of Sutherlandia on cancer cells growing in a lab, and not its effect on cancer growing in a human being.
  • A soon to be published study conducted by the University of Johannesburg (J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Aug 2.) concludes that "Sutherlandia frutescens and S. tomentosa extracts show promise as apoptosis-inducing anti-cancer agents." In plain English, Sutherlandia was found to cause Oesophageal cancer cells to die. This study did not use huuman subjects, however.
  • Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that Sutherlandia extract "revealed a decrease in malignant [breast] cell numbers when compared to their controls." See: J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jul 6;124(1):45-60. Epub 2009 Apr 14.

Disclaimer

Sutherlandia and the contents of this article have not been approved by the FDA.

Nothing in this article is meant to treat, diagnose, or mitigate any disease or medical condition. The information in this article about Sutherlandia Frutens and the limited research on its effectiveness is presented for discussion purposes only and does not constitute advice on whether you should use Sutherlandia. The author does not recommend Sutherlandia or any product. Always follow the advice of a medical professional.

Links to external sites are for convenience only. The author does not endorse the content of any external site.

Conclusion

Preliminary scientific testing seems to be confirming what the indigenous people of South Africa have known for centuries. It appears that this multi-purpose plant is indeed a sort of miracle pharmacy with positive effects on cancer, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and arthritis.

Frustratingly, none of these preliminary studies on Sutherlandia have been followed up with double blind clinical trials involving humans. Most of the testing has been done on cancer cells and the HIV virus growing in a test tube, so it is not known for sure whether Sutherlandia would have any effect on humans. However, the fact that the preliminary research tends to confirm the traditional uses of this plant, which of course were discovered by local medicine men who did not have the benefit of laboratories but rather derived their knowledge from the practical use of the "Cancer Bush" on their patients, is very intriguing and warrants further study.

A word of caution: there are many websites that are promoting Sutherlandia as a wonder drug for the treatment of cancer and HIV/Aids and I suspect that many people are self-medicating. Though the early research is encouraging, there is no evidence that Sutherlandia actually cures cancer or AIDs. In addition, the lack of human or animal testing means that we do not know whether Sutherlandia is safe, or how it might interact with other medications.


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    • profile image

      GadTafari 

      3 years ago

      Cancer bush has been curing people of all kinds of ailments for centuries contact The Bushdoctorz of Cape Town for a consult to see if you would benefit from such treatment

    • profile image

      Joanna 

      4 years ago

      It's not a conspiracy at all - everyone who knows the world a bit - knows that pharmaceutical is not just a business like many others but it's is a giant and extremely lucrative global monster, which provides those involved (producers and concerns, researchers, doctors, hospitals and many more - which obviously also ties to governments and organisations) great personal development schemes, lots of money and power.

      It's not a conspiracy theory - it is how the world works. It is also very sad. Sad - but true.

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I don't think that the failure to explore these promising treatments is part of a conspiracy - I think it's more of a blind spot on the part of the researchers. These treatments are deemed unorthodox. If they worked it means that entire careers were based on teaching and researching and prescribing the wrong treatments. Their egos just cannot accept this, so they dismiss anything inconsistent with their world view as nonsense. A similar reaction is happening with the so called Liberation Therapy which aims to treat multiple sclerosis with surgery by unblocking veins at the base at the neck. Thousands of people have undergone this unapproved treatment and many report complete remission of symptoms. But the prevailing view is that MS is caused by an autoimmune disease, not a vascular abnormality that can be fixed with a scalpel. So most scientists reject this approach, and recently the FDA issued a warning against this treatment pointing out that a few people had died from surgical complications. I think that the number was under dozen. This is regrettable, but people die from surgical complications all the time, even routine things like a nose job, yet no one wants to ban these treatments. Why? Because they are conventional. I cannot say that all of these natural treatments work, but I hope that science will take off its blinders and actually examine them and not dismiss them out of hand.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Voted up and interesting. Why, why, why does the FDA refuse to look into promising treatments such as this? What's the harm? There are fortunes spent on proving a drug manufactured by billion dollar pharmaceutical companies will work. Perhaps the outcome of the studies is already predetermined. But anything even remotely associated with a natural remedy and the FDA refuses to explore. Even coning, the practice of putting beeswax cones into the ear and lighting them to remove wax, the FDA will not approve, and so retailers must market the cones as a relaxation tool. Sorry for the rant. It's just hard not to wonder if the FDA really has the people's best interest at heart, or big money pharmaceutical companies best interests at heart.

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