South Africa has a very high prevalence for cancer and it is set to increase astronomically over the next 15 years.
The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) projects that by 2030 cancer will increase by a massive 70% in low- and middle-income countries due to the changeover from Traditional to Western lifestyles, characterised by diets high in fat and processed carbohydrates and low levels of physical activity – the forerunners of obesity, which has proven to be an increasingly important risk-factor for various types of cancer.
South African researchers are exploring the anti-cancer properties of common indigenous plants including Garlic, Rooibos and Honeybush tea, and have come up with some promising findings.
It has long been known that Rooibos, which is a fynbos variety unique to the semi-arid regions of the Western and Eastern Cape, is high in antioxidants (a mixture of vitamins, minerals and flavanoids found in plants) that prevent DNA cell damage caused by free radicals (a normal by-product of certain body processes that can be exacerbated through external pollutants).
Cancer occurs when cells go haywire and mutate – potentially from cell damage from free radicals. By keeping the cells in check, the antioxidants in Rooibos tea are believed to halt the progression of cancer.
While previous research has been shown to help prevent cancer, biochemist Prof Amanda Swart from the Stellenbosch University (SU) earlier this year presented findings that showed that Rooibos might also aid in the treatment of cancer.
Although Professor Swart’s research is still in its early stages with only lab work being done so far, results show that Rooibos extract interferes with the production of a male sex hormone, dihydrotestosterone, which has been identified as a driving force in prostate cancer.
Swarts cautioned however, “Although we have shown that the effects of Rooibos are favourable in cell model systems, Rooibos should not be seen as a cure. The research is ongoing and our findings may implicate Rooibos to support therapeutic approaches to prostate cancer.”
Honeybush, a cousin to Rooibos, is also thought to have possible therapeutic benefits to protect against breast cancer.
Honey-bush was tested for medicinal purposes due to anecdotes from communities in the Eastern Cape’s Langkloof area of locals using it to treat menopause, according to Ann Louw, a Professor of Biochemistry at SU.
Molecular testing has shown that honeybush extract contains phyto-oestrogentic potential (chemicals that occur naturally in plants and have the ability to either block or proliferate oestrogen). This is important because 2/3 breast cancers are oestrogen-receptor (ER) positive, which means they grow in response to the hormone oestrogen.
There are two main types of ER, alpha and beta. Alpha proliferate oestrogen and fuels ER-positive breast cancer, while beta blocks it. Treatment for ER-positive breast cancer aims to reduce the level of ER alpha. Honeybush has shown to not only reduce ER alpha, but to increase beta, thereby delivering a double punch.
Honeybush-derived therapy is still in the testing phases, but may one day be used as a second-line drug against ER-positive breast cancer that shows resistance against first-line drugs like Tamoxifen.
It is important to note that not all honeybush harvests contain these specific phytochemicals; they seem to only develop under very specific environmental conditions such as extreme heat or drought
Garlic has long been known for its medicinal properties and an anti-cancer effect, and has been a staple in healers’ arsenals for centuries.
According to Dr Catherine Kaschula, a researcher from the University of Cape Town, a compound called allicin (which is responsible for the pungent smell) is released when a garlic clove is crushed. Allicin itself is a great antibacterial agent, but is not cytotoxic (cancer-killing). After some time however, allicin transforms into other compounds, of which one, Ajoene is cytotoxic.
According to Kaschula, Ajoene actually penetrates cancer cells and sticks itself to proteins within a certain part of the cell, causing the cancer cell to die.
While Kaschula has not been able to quantify precisely how much garlic one is supposed to ingest to get the benefits, she suggests regularly incorporating it into your cooking to ensure that you have healthy levels of ajoene in your system.
While much of the above research is still in the early stages, it offers hope in the face of the huge increase in cancer in South Africa
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used. Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.