Ever since the first medicine man or local shaman discovered that certain plants could ail maladies, there has been a massive interest all through history in identifying and using plants with medicinal properties. At the turn of the 21st century, as new diseases emerge and lay waste to millions of people across the world, the search for drugs that hold the key to the cure has never been more crucial to saving lives.
One herb, Artemisinin, also known as Sweet Wormwood, is gaining popularity as not only a time honoured medicine for treating uncomplicated malaria but also as a potential cure for all types of cancer in its early stages.
What is Artemisinin?
Qinghaosu, as it is known in China, is a drug that is derived from the common herb found all over the world named Artemisia Annua. Its medical properties have been known in China for over thousands of years. Medicine men in China prescribed making it into a tea used specifically to treat malaria.
In for a majority of the time when malaria was rampant and modern anti-malarial drugs were yet to be discovered, this herb was a life saver. Records of this wonder herb have been around since the 1500’s and there is an increased interest in its possible applications for curing cancer.
Artemisinin and iron
Artemisinin has a unique chemical structure in its highly unstable peroxide bridge bond that is thought to be responsible for its effects in areas of high iron concentrations such as red blood cells and cancerous cells. After binding to these areas of high iron, the Artemisinin is thought to create a large amount of superoxide that kills the affected cells.
The kill area is limited to the areas that are overproducing iron thus normal cells are spared from the effects of the radical oxygen group that is thought to attack and degrade the cell wall and components of these hazardous cells. In the case of which cells are destroyed, that would be the infected red blood cells containing the infectious protozoans in malaria and the rapidly dividing and iron consuming cancer cells in the case of cancer.
Sweet Wormwood history
Sweet Wormwood has a history of being kept secret by the Chinese from the West. Being a part of “52 Prescriptions” recovered from the ancient “Mawangdui Han Dynasty Tombs”, this particular wormwood was selected as part of a national program to find an excellent counter for malaria.
It was found that this plant’s derivative was most efficient at treating malaria of the Plasmodium falciparum strain compared to other contemporary drugs at the time. This success has raised concerns that there may be resistance to this wonder drug that can be used by itself into treating malaria by itself.
The secret wormwood was found out when China underwent economic reforms in the 1970s. When the secret was out and peer reviews came from every side, there was much skepticism over the effectiveness of Artemisinin due to the peroxide bond that was held to be unstable and thus not has a long shelf life for as needed demands.
Clinical trials about Artemisisnin
Current clinical trials about Artemisinin are in its earliest stages. It’s been found out that its metabolites, as a result of pharmacokinetics, Dihydroartemisinin is known to disrupt the mitotic process of cancer cells. The process in vitro is thought to be in principle as guided molecular therapy wherein the Artemisinin is tagged to the transferrin and the Artemisinin is concentrated onto the cancer cells where it exerts its toxic effects almost exclusively to rapidly dividing cancer cells. Specifically, the creation of radical oxygen species destroys the cell processes of the cancerous cell.
In the 1990s, Novartis bought a Chinese patent for a combination of Artemether and Lumefantrine, the first of many combined therapies to combat the incidence of resistance to malaria parasites as well as to provide the drugs at cheaper prices.
The indications for Sweet wormwood and its derivate Artemisinin are uncomplicated malaria, severe malaria, and possible cancer treatment application currently undergoing research as well as helminthic parasites.
There is a concern about the increased incidence of resistance to Artemisinin in most of the countries in South East Asia such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. If no actions are taken to prevent the unrestricted use of Artemisinin in the treatment of recurring malaria, the strains of protozoan infection could result into even harder to treat malaria and higher mortality rates as no other drug possess the same level of efficacy as well as a safety like that of the Artemisinin.
Artemisinin side effects
However, just like any other drug, Artemisinin has side effects that should be well noted to prepare for such events and calm the patients who are taking such drugs. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and dizziness are present. These can be relieved by slowly getting up from the bed, taking smaller, more frequent meals and resting up.
The most concerning adverse reaction would be an anaphylactic reaction or allergic reaction. This has to be identified immediately and epinephrine pens on hand to counter the airway blockage associated with this reaction.
The potentials of Sweet wormwood/Artemisinin are promising. Not only is the drug believed to have important actions on various pathways in cancer cells regulation, it is also reputed to have anti-viral properties as well. One pathway that can be mentioned is the Wnt/B-catenin pathway in colorectal cancer; another would be to inhibit the angiogenesis that is present in cancer cells.
In this day and age where there is a frantic search for better drugs and novel treatments against diseases that ravage the human body and psyche, Sweet Wormwood may be one of the answers to the world’s woes. This unassuming but highly healing herb contains the secret to curing one of the most deadly diseases known to man, cancer.
It cannot be stressed enough that the word must get out informing people of this new drug’s role to play in the coming years as potent anti-cancer drug as well as its time honoured role as an anti-malarial. We may finally have a chance against cancer, now more so than ever in our greatest time of need.
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