Beyond limited empirical observations, not all medicinal plants have established scientific studies to support their effectiveness. However, in the case of Brucea javanica, it is one of those plants in which scientific investigations have provided enough evidence to prove that it has an impressive efficacy for the treatment of cervical, bladder and pancreatic cancers. Its selective toxicity has also been found to kill 70% of breast cancer cells.
Oncologists are still at a loss to find methods of selectively killing cancer cells through the standard protocols of treatment in chemotherapy and radiation. While damaging healthy cells is an inevitable process through most cytotoxic drugs, chemotherapy also triggers them to secrete a protein that sustains tumour growth and resistance to further treatment.
As more knowledge and research is being extended to populations confined to conventional allopathic principles, the broad categories of herbal and plant medicines are finally reaching the mainstream. The effectiveness of medicinal plants and foods to treat cancer is perhaps receiving the most widespread attention. Dietary anti-angiogenic foods alone have sparked so much interest in the cancer community, that even veteran Physicians are beginning to recommend them to cancer patients.
Brucea javanica (Brucea javanica (L.) Merr) is one of those plants that needs far more recognition in this catergory for its incredible ability to selectively kill cancer cells.
A shrub original from South-east Asia, and occurs from Sri Lanka and India towards Indo-China, southern China, Taiwan, Thailand and even northern Australia, B. javanica has been the subject of hundreds of studies and clinical trials, all of them aimed to better understand two main key issues: First how effective this plant really is; and secondly, if it is so effective, which active constituents are responsible for its anti-cancer properties.
B. javanica is a monoecious or dioecious shrub or small tree that can grow up to 10 m tall with soft-haired twigs and leaves. It prefers open localities such as light secondary forests and thickets, forest edges, ridges, and even occurring in sunny places on sandy dunes and on limestone. It grows under both per-humid and seasonal conditions from sea level up to 900 m altitude
For several millennia, herbal preparations and natural remedies from B. javanica have been shown to be effective in treating many types of maladies including malaria, and amoebiasis as well as cancer. Approximately half of the drugs currently in clinical use are of natural origin, however many of these drugs become toxic with substantial side effects due to the integration of artificial chemical compounds in their formulas.
B. javanica contains alkaloids (brucamarine, yatanine), glycosides/quassinoids (brucealin, yatanoside A and B, kosamine, bruceantin, bruceantarin, bruceantinol), and phenol (brucenol, bruceolic acid). The seeds contain brusatol and bruceine. The pulp oil contains fat, oleic acid, linoleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitoleic acid. Fruit and leaves contain tannin.
To date, 153 compounds have been reported from the seeds and aerial parts of Brucea javanica. Quassinoids are the main constituents of this species. The extract of Brucea javanica and the isolated compounds, specifically quassinoids exhibit various biological properties and are well known for their antitumor effects, especially how they are selectively toxic to cancer cells.
A study in the American Journal of Medical Science demonstrated that the aqueous extract from B. javanica and the induction of apoptosis by components of B. javanica is an indicated mechanism by which it kills cancer cells. The study found that B. javanica treatment lead to 70% cell death in breast cancer cells.
Another study in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine from researchers at the Department of Urology, The First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hongzhou, China, found that B. javanica oil significantly induces programmed cell death of bladder cancer cells.
A study from the international journal Cancer Letters, researchers showed that brucein D (BD), a quassinoid found abundantly in B. javanica fruit, inhibited the growth of three pancreatic cancer cell lines. They provided experimental evidence to support the traditional use of B. javanica fruit in cancer treatment, and render BD a promising candidate for further development into anti-pancreatic cancer agent.
Yet another study in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, demonstrated the antiproliferative and apoptotic activities of B. javanica along with other herbal traditional Chinese medicines. They concluded that the programmed cell death of cancer cells activated by specific proteins was 5 times higher in cells treated with B. javanica.
Bruceantin, a contituent of B. javanica has also been found to interfere with the growth of leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma cells.
Regardless of centuries of empirical observation as well as the scientifically documented evidence of B. javanica as a medicinal plant and bonafide anti-cancer potential, the World Health Organization (WHO) monographs of selected medicinal plants, claims that no medical uses for B. javanica are supported by clinical data.
Dr. Marianna Pochelli is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine specializing in the treatment of disease through superfoods and herbal strategies. She actively promotes detoxification, colon cleansing, and a vegetarian lifestyle using living foods as a platform to health.