A widely used herbal supplement taken to aid digestion has been found to have powerful anti-cancer properties. Triphala, made from the dried and powdered fruit of three plants, is the most popular Ayurvedic remedy in India. It is used to stimulate the appetite, treat intestinal disorders and act as a laxative.
Indian scientists have claimed for years that Triphala has value as a detoxifying and anti-cancer agent. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute say they have shown that it can prevent or slow the growth of pancreatic cancer tumours implanted in mice.
Millions of cancer patients turn to herbal supplements and vitamin pills in the hope that they can boost their immune systems and help fight the disease. Many take them out of disaffection with conventional medicine but doctors warn that exaggerated claims are being made for their effects.
The latest findings, presented to the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in Los Angeles yesterday, suggest some herbal preparations may have genuine anti-cancer action.
Mice grafted with human pancreatic tumours were fed one to two milligrams of Triphala for five days a week. By the end of the study, their tumours were half the size of those in a control group of mice fed saline (salt solution) only.
Sanjay Srivastava, the assistant professor in pharmacology who led the study, said: "We discovered that Triphala fed orally to mice ... was an extremely effective inhibitor of the cancer process. Triphala triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of tumours without causing any side effects."