Ashwagandha: Using the Immune System To Treat Cancer

Author

S. Bani, M.K. Kaul, K.A. Suri, A.K. Saxena and G.N. Qazi, Regional Research Laboratory ( CSIR ), Canalo Road, Jammu Tawi, 180001, INDIA.

Proceeding

1st International Conference & Exhibition on Women's Health & Asian Traditional (WHAT) Medicine

Date

23/8/2005

Keyword

cancer , herbal, antioxidant , immune system, anti-cancer, Ashwagandha , Withania somnifera, Ayurvedic medicine, apoptosis

Abstract

The most recent estimate of cancer indicates that 8.1 million new cases are diagnosed worldwide each year. The growth rate of cancer is 2.1% per year, a rate that is faster than the growth rate of the world population at 1.7% per year With advanced knowledge of molecular science and refinement in isolation & structure elucidation techniques, we are in a much better position to identify various anticancer herbs and develop the remedy that might have a vital role in eliminating the suffering and death caused due to cancer. The therapeutic effect of anticancer herbs is executed by inhibiting cancer-activating enzymes, stimulating DNA repair mechanism, promoting production of protective enzymes, inducing antioxidant action and by enhancing activity of the immune cells. Scientists all over the world are concentrating on the herbal medicines to boost immune cells of the body against cancer. By understanding the complex synergistic interaction of various constituents of anticancer herbs, the herbal formulations can be designed to attack the cancerous cells without harming normal cells of the body. Immunotherapy is  gaining popularity as alternative treatment for  different diseased states where immune status of the patient is compromised. In an immune response,  the target tissue is subjected to the action of  several cytokines as a result of chain-reaction, that may act synergistically to promote one arm of the immune response while inhibiting the other. Cytokines are pleiotropic and may function in autocrine, paracrine and endocrine manner. Developing data suggest that locally produced cytokines may arouse immunogenicity and facilitate cell-to-cell interactions by inducing or enhancing expression of select membrane proteins.  Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) also known as winter cherry, Indian ginseng, or "vitalizer", the last name being in reference to its renowned rejuvenative and tonic effects on the nervous system has been prescribed for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and is a prominent herb mentioned in the Indian text "Charaka Samhita" (1000 B.C.). Numerous studies show ashwagandha to be superior to ginseng (Panax ginseng) as an anti-stress adaptogen. It  contains withanolides/ glycowithanolides, which possess immunomodulatory activity. Withaferin A & withanolide D are known to have diverse applications  that range from anti-stress to anti-cancer properties. Recent laboratory studies of the action of ashwagandha  suggest that the herb may contribute to inhibiting growth of cancer cells, promoting cancer cell death (apoptosis), enhancing immune attack against cancer cells, reduce reactivity of host defense systems and decrease the damaging effects of various stressors due to increased basal level of mediators involved in the stress-response. As an immune regulating herb, ashwagandha remains of interest for use along with modern cancer . The detailed  botanical, chemical and biological profile of ashwagandha shall be discussed in the presentation.