The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, typically strikes individuals with hepatitis B or C, or other chronic liver conditions. Conventional treatment can include radiation, surgery and transplants, or injected chemotherapy. While the course of action depends on the seriousness of the disease, there is potential help from an herbal source best known for helping people adapt to stress: ashwagandha.
The name ‘ashwagandha’ (Withania somnifera) comes from the Sanskrit word used to describe the smell of a horse, referring to the scent of the plant’s roots after harvesting, but also to the feeling of strength and vitality that all those using the herb experienced as well.
Ashwagandha contains potent natural compounds, known as withanolides, which have been found to have bolstering effect for mental and physical resilience. It turns out that they may also fight cancer cell growth because of their antioxidant capabilities as well.
Because we hear about antioxidants so often, it may be easy to dismiss their importance as something that helps us stay moderately healthy. But that undersells their abilities by a long shot. Fighting oxidative stress and inflammation are two of the major ways that natural compounds help fight the damage that causes cells to mutate and replicate, which in turn, causes tumors.
This cell study showed that treating hepatocellular carcinoma cells with an ashwagandha extract caused them to shrink or die outright in just 24 hours. That’s because the antioxidant abilities of the herb interfered with the dysfunctional way that the cancer cells replicate.
In the future it is possible that ashwagandha could be recommended as a preventative or as an adjunct treatment for liver cancer – without causing the serious side effects that mark conventional approaches.
Ahmed W, Mofed D, Zekri AR, El-Sayed N, Rahouma M, Sabet S. Antioxidant activity and apoptotic induction as mechanisms of action of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) against a hepatocellular carcinoma cell line. J Int Med Res. 2018;46(4):1358–1369.
Objective To evaluate the antioxidant and apoptotic inductive effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) leaf extract against a hepatocellular carcinoma cell line. Methods After treating HepG2cells with Ashwagandha water extract (ASH-WX; 6.25 mg/ml-100 mg/ml), cell proliferation was assessed using a 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. Antioxidant activities (total antioxidant, glutathione S-transferase and glutathione reductase), Fas-ligand level, tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) level and caspase-3, -8, and -9 activities were measured. Molecular modelling assessed the binding-free energies of Ashwagandha in the cyclin D1 receptor. Results The MTT assay demonstrated increased cytotoxicity following treatment of HepG2 cells with ASH-WX compared with control untreated cells and theIC50was 5% (approximately 5.0 mg/ml). Antioxidant activities, Fas-ligand levels and caspase-3, -8 and -9 activities significantly increased, while TNF-α level significantly decreased following ASH-WX treatment compared with control untreated cells. Molecular docking analysis revealed a good prediction of binding between cyclin D1 and Ashwagandha. There was significant accumulation of ASH-WX-treated HepG2cells in the G0/G1 and G2/M phases compared with the control untreated cells. Conclusion Ashwagandha could be a powerful antioxidant and a promising anticancer agent against HCC.
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