Scientists have known for quite some time that compounds found in plant foods act as natural chemopreventive agents, which is the basis for most, if not all, man-made chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer patients. But how do plants prevent and even reverse cancer? Well, in a nutshell (no plant-based pun intended) these compounds modify the behavior of our DNA by turning on healthy genes and turning off disease-promoting genes. This is what is known as epigenetic modification of DNA.
Essentially compounds found in plant foods “release the kraken” of our natural immune system while acting as bouncers and bodyguards to prevent cancer cells from getting out of hand.
Killing Cancer Naturally With Withaferin A And Sulforaphane
One of these incredible compounds is Withaferin A – a withanolide found in the ashwagandha plant (also known as Winter Cherry). Withaferin A is present throughout the entire plant, including the fruit. However, it is most abundant in the leaves and roots of ashwagandha.
In some parts of the world, this comes as no surprise because ashwagandha – a perennial shrub primarily grown in India, Asia, Yemen, and China – has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, due to its incredible anti-cancer properties among other things.
Although Withaferin A has been studied(1-4) at length in regard to its positive effects in treating many types of cancer, a recent study showed that, when combined with sulforaphane – a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, arugula, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collard greens – it became even more powerful in preventing and killing two forms of breast cancer – triple negative breast cancer (MDA-MB-231) and estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (MCF-7).
The study(5), published May 19, 2017, showed the remarkable ability of these two compounds to not only incite apoptosis (cancer cell suicide), but to also prevent the initiation and metastasis of cancer cells through various means.
In fact, the research revealed that, in regard to triple negative breast cancer, the combination of Withaferin A and sulforaphane was more effective at killing cancer cells than the chemotherapy drug Vorinostat. And, although slightly less effective in killing estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (MCF-7), Withaferin A and sulforaphane remain potent anti-cancer compounds.
How Withaferin A And Sulforaphane Prevent And Reverse Cancer
Withaferin A and sulforaphane prevent and reverse cancer in a multitude of ways, including the following:
Inhibition of Pro-Inflammatory Cytokine
Cytokines are cell-signaling molecules that can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Internal inflammation is the foundation of all disease, and wherever inflammation is present disease will follow, including cancer.
BAX Gene Initiation
BAX proteins (Bcl-2 proteins) are known as an “apoptotic activators”, meaning that they induce apoptosis (cancer cell suicide).
HDACs (Histone Deacetylase) are a family of enzymes which play a vital role in multiple biological processes in the body, and are highly involved in gene expression, the growth of cells, and apoptosis.
DNMT Inhibition and Regulation of DNA Methylation
DNMTs (DNA methyltransferases) are a family of proteins present in almost all life forms, with DNMT1 most abundantly found in adult cells. These proteins directly affect DNA methylation patterns which turn on either cancer-causing oncogenes or cancer-fighting, tumor suppressor genes.
Vimentin is what is known as a cytoskeletal protein found in humans. Its primary function is to maintain the integrity of cell walls. Although useful and necessary, vimentin has been shown to “overexpress” itself when cancer is present which aids in the cellular processes that lead to metastasis and progression of tumor growth.
Potential Inhibition of Angiogenesis
Angiogenesis is the process in which new blood vessels are formed in the body. While this biological process can, at times, be life-saving, in regard to cancer, the body forms new vessels in order to feed cancer growth.
Antioxidants are known to prevent, repair, and “clean-up” free radical damage to our DNA – one of the causes of pre-mature aging and age-related diseases, including cancer.
Like BAX, BCL-2s are a protein involved in apoptosis. However, unlike BAX, BCL-2s prevent cancer cells from dying.
Adding Cancer-Killing Withaferin A and Sulforaphane To Your Diet
So how can you get your daily dose of Withaferin A and sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is easily added to the diet through the whole foods mentioned above. And, although what’s most important is that you include these valuable veggies in your diet on a regular basis, it’s best to use cooking methods that retain as many nutrients as possible.
Eating your cruciferous vegetables raw is obviously most preferred. Second to that, I would suggest a light steaming, followed by a third option of simmering with water or a small amount of oil at a low temperature. A very quick stir-fry will also suffice, but more nutrients are lost at high temperatures. Boiling vegetables allows a vast amount of nutrients to leach out into the water, so this is not an ideal cooking method. And the one thing you never want to do is to heat your food in the microwave. This method of cooking erases many of the health benefits found in food and may even pose a health hazard(6).
As for ashwagandha, it’s best and easiest to consume an organically-grown, vegan-based supplement or powder. It’s also important to note that some parts of the plant are toxic, if you plan to grow it yourself; While ashwagandha fruit is purported to be safe whether raw or cooked, consuming raw ashwagandha leaves may cause cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Additionally, the calyx which surrounds the fruit should be discarded prior to consuming the fruit, as it is toxic whether raw or cooked(7).
There are also some relative and absolute contraindications to the use of ashwagandha if you have or take medications for diabetes, high or low blood pressure, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases, or a thyroid disorder. In addition, women who are pregnant or nursing should not take ashwagandha, and all ashwagandha users should stop taking it at least two weeks prior to surgery(8). Click Here for more details.
- Samadi, Abbas K. “Potential Anticancer Properties and Mechanisms of Action of Withanolides.” Mechanism of the Anticancer Effect of Phytochemicals The Enzymes, July 29, 2015, 73-94. doi:10.1016/bs.enz.2015.05.002.
- Vyas, Avani R., and Shivendra V. Singh. “Molecular Targets and Mechanisms of Cancer Prevention and Treatment by Withaferin A, A Naturally Occurring Steroidal Lactone.” The AAPS Journal 16, no. 1 (September 18, 2013): 1-10. doi:10.1208/s12248-013-9531-1.
- Grover, Abhinav, Ashutosh Shandilya, Ankita Punetha, Virendra S. Bisaria, and Durai Sundar. “Inhibition of the NEMO/IKKβ association complex formation, a novel mechanism associated with the NF-κB activation suppression by Withania somnifera’s key metabolite withaferin A.” BMC Genomics 11, no. Suppl 4 (December 2, 2010). doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-s4-s25.
- Wang, Hui-Chun, Yi-Ling Tsai, Yang-Chang Wu, Fang-Rong Chang, Mei-Hsin Liu, Wen-Ying Chen, and Chin-Chung Wu. “Withanolides-Induced Breast Cancer Cell Death Is Correlated with Their Ability to Inhibit Heat Protein 90.” PLoS ONE 7, no. 5 (May 31, 2012). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037764.
- Royston, Kendra, Neha Udayakumar, Kayla Lewis, and Trygve Tollefsbol. “Novel Combination of Withaferin A and Sulforaphane Inhibits Epigenetic Machinery, Cellular Viability and Induces Apoptosis of Breast Cancer Cells.” May 19, 2017. doi:10.20944/preprints201705.0102.v1.
- Mercola, Joseph, D.O. “8 reasons you need to throw away your microwave immediately.” Mercola.com. May 18, 2010. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx.
- “Winter Cherry Medicinal Benefits and Uses in Ayurveda.” Nootriment – Health Supplement Reviews and Research. November 25, 2016. https://nootriment.com/winter-cherry/.
- “ASHWAGANDHA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ashwagandha.aspx?activeingredientid=953.