A new study from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute suggests that a commonly used herbal supplement, triphala, has cancer-fighting properties that prevent or slow the growth of pancreatic cancer tumors implanted in mice. The study found that an extract of triphala, the dried and powdered fruits of three plants, caused pancreatic cancer cells to die through a process called apoptosis – the body’s normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted or unneeded cells. This process often is faulty in cancer cells. Results of the study, abstract number LB-142, are being presented in a late-breaking session at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 14-18, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Triphala, one of the most popular herbal preparations in the world, is used for the treatment of intestinal-related disorders. It is typically taken with water and thought to promote appetite and digestion and to increase the number of red blood cells.
“We discovered that triphala fed orally to mice with human pancreatic tumors was an extremely effective inhibitor of the cancer process, inducing apoptosis in cancer cells,” said Sanjay K. Srivastava, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor, department of pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Triphala triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumors without causing any toxic side effects.”
Dr. Srivastava and colleagues fed mice grafted with human pancreatic tumors 1 to 2 milligrams of triphala for five days a week and then compared tumor size and levels of apoptotic proteins in the tumors to a control group of mice that received normal saline only. They found that the mice that received triphala had increased levels of proteins associated with apoptosis and significantly smaller tumor sizes when compared to the control group. Triphala-treated tumors were half the size of tumors in untreated mice. Further testing revealed that triphala activated tumor-suppressor genes, resulting in the generation of proteins that support apoptosis, but did not negatively affect normal pancreatic cells.
“Our results demonstrate that triphala has strong anticancer properties given its ability to induce apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells without damaging normal pancreatic cells,” said Dr. Srivastava. “With follow-up studies, we hope to demonstrate its potential use as a novel agent for the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Srivastava.
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Pancreatic cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is one of the most aggressive cancers, with an extremely poor prognosis.
Co-investigator of the study is Yan Shi, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.