Medicine News

TCM niu bang zi Traditional Chinese Medicine herb proven to be a powerful anti-cancer agent

The greater burdock (Arctium lappa) is a popular medicinal plant used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its fruit, known as niu bang zi, is especially well-known: It is used to treat multiple ailments, such as boils, acute tonsillitis, abscesses, and constipation. According to researchers at Wonkwang University in South Korea, the fruit can potentially be used as an anticancer agent. In their study published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, they revealed that niu bang zi has antiproliferative and anti-metastatic properties that make it effective against colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer, the collective term for cancers that start either in the colon or rectum, is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. Nearly 150,000 cases has been diagnosed in the country for 2019 alone. The American Cancer Society estimates that, overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 4.49 percent for males and 4.15 percent for females.

The fruit of the greater burdock can stop the metastasis of colorectal cancer

For their study, the researchers examined the pharmacological properties of niu bang zi and its ability to suppress the growth of colorectal cancer cells. They looked at how the fruit can inhibit cell growth, epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), migration, and invasion of colorectal cancer cells. EMT refers to the process by which epithelial cells assume the characteristics of mesenchymal cells. These characteristics or phenotype include enhanced migratory capacity, invasiveness, and resistance to programmed cell death (apoptosis). While EMT is activated to help with tissue repair in the event of an injury, certain genomic changes within cells can also cause it to generate invasive cells that can spread to other organs.

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Based on the results of in vitro testing using CT26 colorectal carcinoma cells, researchers found that niu bang zi can induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, which led to a decrease in CT26 cell proliferation. It also halted metastasis by increasing the expression of E-cadherin, an epithelial marker known for its tumor-suppressing activity. In addition, niu bang zi reduced the expression of the mesenchymal marker, N-cadherin, in CT26 cells. Previous studies have reported that N-cadherin is widely expressed in colorectal cancer cell lines, making it a potential prognostic predictor of colorectal cancer.

The researchers also found that niu bang zi could inhibit matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) and MMP-9 activity, which caused a decrease in the invasion and migration capacity of CT26 cells. They associated this decrease with the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK is considered to be the central regulator of energy homeostasis that balances nutrient supply and energy demand. It is also an important target in therapies designed to control diseases like metabolic syndrome and cancer.

“Collectively, this study demonstrates that [niu bang zi] inhibits the proliferation and metastatic properties of [colorectal cancer] cells,” the researchers concluded. (Related: Fighting colorectal cancer with gut health: Certain probiotic bacteria, combined with broccoli, found to prevent and reduce tumors.)

The findings of this study are similar to those of other studies that investigated the relationship between TCM and colorectal cancer. For instance, a study published in JNCI Monographs revealed that the regular use of TCM herbal medicine can significantly improve the survival outcomes of patients with stage II or III colorectal cancer. The cohort study involved over 300 patients who were monitored over a five-year period.

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