Cancer is one of the oldest maladies and research on its treatment has been going on for ages in every part of the world. With the world rapidly advancing, scientists are finding new alternatives every day to cure cancer and artemisinin is one of them.
Artemisinin is a compound present in the plant called Artemisia annua or wormwood. In the older times when allopathic medicines were not mainstream, artemisinin tea was used to treat malaria, fever, and inflammation. This was a common practice in China.
Artemisinin is also the basis for the malaria drug called artesunate, prescribed by doctors all over the world. Usually, about 4.5-9 grams of artemisinin is used as a tea for the treatment of malaria and 100-200 mg is used in combination with other drugs to treat diseases. Let’s learn everything about what artemisinin has to do with the treatment of cancer.
What is the relationship between artemisinin and cancer?
The reasons why artemisinin is thought to be an alternative for other cancer treatments are:
- Other treatments are more aggressive compared to artemisinin therapy.
- There is a risk of cancer cells becoming resistant to the drugs involved in these aggressive cancer treatments. Scientists have not yet found any such risk with artemisinin which makes it a safe alternative.
- Artemisinin is cost-effective, less toxic, and easily available when compared to other pharmacological interventions.
Can artemisinin treat cancer?
Iron is a key element in the cell division of cancer cells. When artemisinin is released inside the body, it is activated by the iron used for the cell division and multiplication of these cancer cells. Iron and artemisinin enter the cancer cells together, which creates cancer-killing free radicals formed by a process called endoperoxide moiety.
These radicals only target the cancer cells without causing any harm to our normal body cells. Researchers have found the specificity of these free radicals released by combining artemisinin and iron to be almost a thousand times more effective than some other conventional methods.
Scientists have also carried out some techniques using artemisinin in combination with cancer-transferrin, that trick the cancer cells into thinking that cancer transferrin is not harmful.
This technique was successful in destroying the cells of leukemia without harming the white blood cells (WBCs). Artemisinin is also known to slow down the spread of tumours, hinder the division and multiplication of cancer cells, tricking cancer cells into self-destruction, and cutting off the blood supply of cancer cells.
The existing research on artemisinin is very encouraging but there haven’t been many clinical trials conducted on human beings that are not enough to use it independently to cure cancer. Most of the trials conducted have used artemisinin in combination with normal cancer care and not as an alternative.
Some experimental data suggests that artemisinin for cancer types like colorectal, melanoma, cervical, and lung can play a potential role in their treatment.
Let us elaborate on the role of artemisinin in the treatment of these cancers one by one.
- Some of the recent studies have found out that artemisinin in combination with aminolevulinic acid can potentially enhance artemisinin’s anticancer properties in fighting against the colorectal cancer lines. There have also been experiments to show that people who received artesunate saw an increased rate of about 12% in the death of cancer cells in comparison to those who didn’t.
- Artesunate in combination with other drugs showed promising results in curbing the spread of melanoma (eye cancer).
Research conducted has found that a person who was on this type of drug combination survived around 40 months extra after he was diagnosed with skin cancer. This is almost 20 times higher than those on other drugs surviving for 2-5 months only.
- After following around 120 cases of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer, researchers found out that those who were treated with chemotherapy in combination with artesunate witnessed a slow- down in the progress of their cancer than those who tried different combinations of medicine.
- 10 Women with cervical cancer when treated with artemisinin, went into remission within 28 days and experienced symptoms of cervical cancer like foul vaginal discharge and pain fade away.
Side effects of artemisinin in cancer treatment
The research on the relationship between artemisinin and cancer is limited and only some of the side effects of artemisinin are known. When more research is conducted, more side effects might surface.
When taken in recommended dosages, it does not have many side effects, but taking unregulated amounts of this naturally occurring compound involves health risks. Some of the known are side effects of artemisinin are:
- Skin rashes
- Loss in the hearing ability
- Ear pain and ringing sounds in the ear
- Dizzy feeling
- Liver problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tremors inside the body
Artemisinin is administered as oral tablets, suppositories, injections, and creams that are applied topically. Since the research on artemisinin is still going on, the researchers need more experimental data to determine the safety and effectiveness of artemisinin.
Even though the studies conducted till now show positive results, people unaware of its side effects, dosage, potential drug interactions and dosage amount should not take artemisinin, especially for the treatment of cancer.
The outlook is that artemisinin is a naturally occurring compound that has both benefits and side effects and it can be a very useful compound for cancer treatment and is already a very important compound for the treatment of many diseases.
One of the reasons that make the researchers want to conduct more experiments on its reliability is its easy availability and cost-effectiveness which makes it a favourable option to be used for the treatment of patients that come from low-income families where cancer has very deep roots.
Many such compounds are coming up to be effective for the treatment of cancer which is a piece of wonderful news and development for the world. This sends out a message of hope to all the cancer patients who are fighting like heroes and makes us think that the day we find a cure for cancer is not very far!
We love to pass on to you the knowledge that we gain and we hope that you will do the same and educate others about artemisinin and its effect on cancer!