The Chinese herb in the fight against colorectal cancer

Having cancer is scary. But the word “chemotherapy” can be just as worrisome for different reasons. In some cases, chemotherapy is one of those situations where the cure can be worse than the disease.

While chemotherapy is necessary to treat many forms of cancer, it can come with some rough side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weight loss, fatigue, mouth and throat problems, anemia and infection.

But that’s not even the worst part. After going through chemotherapy and enduring its hellish side effects, sometimes the patient discovers that the chemotherapy did not work on their cancer. All that pain and suffering… and it didn’t even help.

One cancer that can be especially difficult to treat with traditional chemotherapy drugs is colorectal cancer, which is the No. 3 killer among cancers in the United States. According to Dr. Ajay Goel at City of Hope cancer center, “Approximately half of all colorectal cancer patients will develop resistance to chemotherapy, and when they do, almost nothing works.”

That grim outlook looks to be changing. Results of a recent cellular study by City of Hope show that pairing chemotherapy with the natural botanical Andrographis paniculate was more effective in treating colorectal cancer than using either therapy alone. If these results translate to treating human patients, it will be a welcome breakthrough in treating chemotherapy-resistant colorectal cancer.

Natural support for chemotherapy

Right now, the only way to help patients resistant to 5-fluorouracil (5FU), the most common chemotherapy for colorectal cancer, is to give them other types of chemotherapies. Unfortunately, the cancer tends to resist these add-on drugs as well, and they can be highly toxic and do more damage to the patient.

There is growing evidence that active ingredients in plants can make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. As a bonus, many of these natural substances are nontoxic—they zero in on killing chemo-resistant cancer cells, leaving the rest of the body undisturbed.

A bitter-tasting annual plant found and used in much of South Asia, Andrographis is known for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. And more and more studies are showing that Andrographis kills cancer cells.

“In cancer there are hundreds of pathways that are malfunctioning, and modern therapies are designed to target a specific gene or molecule or pathway,” Dr. Goel says. “Unlike many of the targeted therapies we use in cancer patients, natural treatments are unique, as they don’t target a specific pathway but work on many pathways.”

In the City of Hope study, researchers discovered that Andrographis alters two major pathways, one of which regulates programmed cell death and the other of which involves cell metabolism. Cancer wreaks havoc on both these pathways, allowing old cells to grow out of control and steal nutrition away from healthy cells. And Andrographis restores both pathways to their regular function.

Botanicals may help prevent disease

Dr. Goel has studied other botanicals in treating colorectal cancer and identified two more that can help: curcumin, found in turmeric; and boswellic acid, a gum resin from the boswellia tree. Both of these natural substances were found to regulate certain microRNAs pathways in human colorectal cancer, suggesting that they could be useful for preventing the disease.

If you’re looking to protect yourself against colorectal cancer, Dr. Goel recommends taking curcumin and boswellic acid. Both are easily available as supplements and have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

As a bonus, these botanicals have a bunch of other health benefits. For instance, clinical studies of boswellic acid have shown it can manage other inflammatory conditions such as asthma, arthritis, cerebral edema, chronic bowel diseases and chronic pain syndrome. And in separate studies, curcumin — an active compound in turmeric — has demonstrated protective or preventive effects on diabetes, as well as the liver, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

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Chemotherapy side effects — American Cancer Society

Study finds botanical effective for chemo-resistant colon cancer — City of Hope

Drug resistance and new therapies in colorectal cancer — World Journal of Gastroenterology

Andrographis Clinical Summary — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

An Update on Pharmacological Potential of Boswellic Acids against Chronic Diseases — International Journal of Molecular Sciences

Bioactivity, Health Benefits, and Related Molecular Mechanisms of Curcumin: Current Progress, Challenges and Perspectives — Nutrients

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.