Many herbs are rich in bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties. They have the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells or induce cancer cell death. Herbs with anticancer properties include thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, and curry leaves. Holy basil, brahmi, ashwagandha, sanjeevani, and guduchi also fall in this category. Consult your doctor before using herbal remedies as they may interfere with certain cancer therapies.
We know herbs as flavor boosters, perking up any meal with their taste and aroma. But these humble kitchen staples often work as superfoods. Herbs have traditionally been valued for their medicinal properties as much as their flavor, and modern science now backs their health benefits. A growing body of research even shows that many common herbs have the potential to take on cancer. If this has piqued your interest, here are some herbs that can fight the good fight against cancer.
This aromatic member of the mint family doubles up as a natural cancer fighter. As one study found, thyme essential oil was toxic to lung carcinoma, prostate carcinoma, and breast cancer cells. Carvacrol, a prominent compound in thyme, may be responsible for this anticancer activity.
Rosemary, widely used in Spanish, French, and Italian cooking, has a reputation as a memory booster. Research indicates that it can help fight cancer as well. This herb contains beneficial compounds such as carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid which inhibit cancer cells such as those of small cell lung carcinoma, prostate carcinoma, liver carcinoma, chronic myeloid leukemia, breast adenocarcinoma, and prostate adenocarcinoma. Research also indicates that rosemary extracts can retard certain chemically induced cancers.
Sage is known for its minty flavor and pungent aroma but turns out it can pack in a punch against cancer. This herb has been found to induce cell death and reduce growth in melanoma cells, colon carcinoma cells, and hepatoma cells. Sage basically has many bioactive compounds with beneficial effects. Ursolic acid, a compound present in it, has been found to be particularly effective at fighting cancer.
Parsley is another commonly used herb with anti-cancer properties. Myristicin present in it has been found to inhibit cancer induced by benzo [a] pyrene, a compound commonly found in foods such as grilled meats, tobacco smoke, and coal tar. Animal studies show that myristicin could inhibit lung tumor formation by 65% and forestomach tumor formation by 31%. The beneficial effects of this compound may come from its ability to activate a detoxifying enzyme known as GST (glutathione transferase).
5. Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are a medicinally important herb used in Indian cooking. Research indicates that this herb can cause the death of cancer cells by working as a proteasome inhibitor. Proteasomes are cellular complexes which degrade proteins. Studies have found that proteasome inhibitors selectively destroy cancer cells and also make tumor cells more sensitive to chemotherapeutic agents.
6. Holy Basil
Holy basil or tulsi has long been valued by ayurveda for its medicinal properties. This potent herb has a range of beneficial compounds such as eugenol, rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and apigenin that may help it fight cancer. Tulsi can increase antioxidant activity and prevent damage to your DNA by radiation. It also inhibits the development of new tumors and induces cell death.
Brahmi is another herb traditionally used in ayurveda. Compounds such as bacopaside É and bacopaside VII extracted from this herb have been found to have toxic effects on cancer cells in malignant glioma, intestinal adenocarcinoma, and breast cancer. Animal studies have also found that they can strongly inhibit sarcoma or cancer of the connective tissue.
Ashwagandha is an antioxidant herb with cancer-fighting potential. Active components like withaferin, withanolide, withanoside, and withanone present in this herb have been found effective against different kinds of cancer. Withaferin A, in particular, can inhibit breast cancer and B-cell lymphoma.
Sanjeevani is also a herb used for its medicinal properties in ayurveda. Lab studies have found that extracts from this herb can stop the growth of cancer cells. The herb can inhibit DNA fragmentation, provide antioxidant defense, and protect against genetic damage caused by methyl isocyanate, a carcinogenic chemical. Animal studies also show it can reduce the development of skin tumors. The anticancer effects of sanjeevani can be attributed to the flavonoids present in this herb.
Guduchi is a herb that has been traditionally used to enhance memory and learning ability. And this herb also exhibits potent anticancer properties. It has been found to have a preventive effect on chemically induced liver cancer in animal studies. Guduchi works by reversing damage to liver cells and increasing the level of antioxidants and detoxifying enzymes. Research on mice has also found that it can inhibit skin tumors and slow down the growth of tumors in Dalton’s lymphoma.
Herbal Remedies Can’t Replace Conventional Treatment Yet
The herbs we’ve listed here have all shown strong anticancer potential in alternative cancer treatment. But studies on them are often in a nascent stage or based on animal models. Large-scale human trials will be needed before they can become a part of mainstream medicine. Which is why you will need your doctor’s guidance to incorporate these into your cancer treatment regimen. Having said that, this list of herbs certainly has potential to fend off cancer, so incorporate them into your daily foods to leverage their anticancer properties.
Do remember to check in with your doctor before using herbs if you are already undergoing cancer treatment as some herbs may interfere with drugs or therapies you’re on. For instance, research suggests that rosemary, commonly used as a culinary herb, may reduce the effectiveness of certain leukemia therapies.