Saturday, August 25, 2012

Herbal tea as a drug to fight breast cancer

There are lots of old wives' tales and folklore when it comes to herbs or other natural products and their medicinal effects. Lots of the attributed effects are not scientifically proven and mostly rely on the so-called placebo effect. Of course, it would be too easy to just write all of them off as rubbish, which is why some scientists have taken a keen interest into scientifically analysing the effects of certain herbal treatments. As it turns out, some components in herbal tea may actually help to fight breast cancer.

Scientists from the Aston University focussed on a plant called Fagonia cretica, often used in Pakistan to make herbal tea with. The local population also believes that the compounds in this plant help to fight cancer, something that is mostly regarded to be folklore. However, the Aston researchers took these claims seriously and started to investigate extracts taken from F. cretica. They used them in an experimental setting and looked at the tumour-killing effects.
According to their experiments, an extract of F. cretica is able to kill breast cancer cells in a laboratory setting. They also demonstrated that healthy cells are left alive, which is of course equally important. Additionally, the Pakistani population shows no side effects from drinking herbal tea made from the plant, indicating that the compounds it contains may be beneficial for cancer treatment, but do not have the nasty side effects that are common for treating cancer patients. It is unknown whether such plant extracts are also beneficial for other types of cancer.

The finding is beneficial for patients with breast cancer, although a lot more research is required. Scientists will need to find which compound in the plant extract is responsible for killing cancer cells. Only then can pharmaceutical companies start to develop a drug suitable for patients, meaning that an actual product based on these findings is still years away. Nevertheless, it is an interesting find because there seem to be no side effects, which means that providing patients with an extract of the plant could be started rapidly. It also shows we need to take herbal and other natural products seriously. It is clear that there is a lot of rubbish, but it is also known that many plants contain compounds with interesting biological effects.

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