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Spinach, Cannabis, cowhage ‘cure’ for cancers

By Chukwuma Muanya
28 October 2021   |   4:21 am
Scientists have validated more plants for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Top on the list of new plants discovered to have anti-cancer and weight loss properties are spinach, Cannabis sativa....

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

Scientists have validated more plants for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Top on the list of new plants discovered to have anti-cancer and weight loss properties are spinach, Cannabis sativa (Marijuana) and Mucuna pruriens (Cowhage/Velvet beans, agbala or agbaloko in Ibo and werepe in Yoruba)).

Researchers had validated the use of bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina), Gongronema latifolium (utazi in Ibo, arokeke in Yoruba), West African Black Pepper or Ashanti pepper (Piper guineense, uziza in Igbo and ata iyere in Yoruba) and sesame (Sesamum indicum) in the treatment of cancers.

Previous research had identified spinach as having anti-colon cancer properties but a study from Texas A&M University (TAMU) in College Station, United States, found that the vegetable could inhibit polyp growth in people with either non-genetic or genetic colon cancer.

They discovered that the anti-polyp effect of spinach stems from some surprising metabolic interactions. Previous research has established that eating spinach can reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as half.

A new study from the TAMU Health Science Centre reaffirmed the anticancer properties of spinach and investigates how the vegetable interacts with gut bacteria and genetics to achieve its beneficial effects.

Spinach inhibits the growth of colon polyps. Of all colorectal cancer cases, the hereditary familial type accounts for only 10–15 per cent. Furthermore, only five–10 per cent of polyps develop into colorectal cancer.

The TAMU researchers had previously confirmed the ability of spinach to repress the development of polyps in rats that had an induced form of cancer similar to humans’ non-genetic, or “sporadic,” colorectal cancer. About 85–90 per cent of colorectal cancer cases are sporadic.

The new study looks at the value of spinach for people with a hereditary form of colorectal cancer called familial adenomatous polyposis.

Familial adenomatous polyposis leads to the growth of multiple, sometimes hundreds, of noncancerous colon polyps. Most people with the condition eventually require surgery to remove the colon, after which they will use potentially toxic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to keep polyps from growing in the duodenum.

For their study, the researchers fed freeze-dried spinach to rats with familial adenomatous polyposis for 26 weeks. The study suggests that spinach consumption could delay polyp growth, holding off the need for intensive treatment.

To understand why spinach was so effective in slowing polyp growth, the researchers utilised a data-driven methodology called multi-omics, which is growing in popularity.

Multi-omics analyzes data from different systems in the body, looking for associations that can suggest potential areas of research.

The “omics” part of multi-omics refers to the ending “ome” in the names of such systems. TAMU’s Integrated Metabolomics Analysis Core (IMAC) conducted the analysis of the metabolome. IMAC operates a suite of state-of-the-art mass spectrometers that allow it to perform metabolomics, the multi-omic study of “small molecules and metabolites that are contained within cells, tissues, and biofluids of organisms.”

Arul Jayaraman, IMAC’s founder, described the study as “one of the most comprehensive metabolomics analyses of its kind, especially in the context of cancer prevention by a whole food: spinach.”

Senior investigator Dr. Roderick Dashwood describes the surprising result of the team’s analysis: “My bias was to focus on the chlorophyll story because of my long history examining anticancer effects of chlorophyll. But it turned out the multi-omics approach prompted other ideas.”

He explained: “When we looked at the metabolomic data, there was no chlorophyll. It was actually fatty acids and linoleic acid derivatives that were causing the beneficial effects.”

The researchers plan to investigate further the anticancer properties of linoleic acid metabolites and short-chain fatty acids in their animal models. The hope is that this work will eventually lead to the investigation of human metabolomic mechanisms.

Regarding whether people should start consuming spinach as a preventive measure against the development of colon cancer, Dashwood advised: “The sooner, the better.”

Dashwood said, “You shouldn’t wait until polyps arise in order to start to do these sorts of preventive things.” Spinach offers plenty of health benefits in any event, as cardiology dietitian Michelle Routhenstein, who is the owner of Entirely Nourished and was not involved in this study, told Medical News Today: “Spinach contains several nutrients that help protect your heart health. Spinach is a rich source of vitamin K1, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiomegaly. Spinach is also naturally rich in glutathione, which helps boost the master antioxidant pathway in the body, [helping] address oxidative stress and support immune function.”

Routhenstein continued: “Spinach also contains folate, which is one of the vitamins needed to lower homocysteine levels in the body — high homocysteine levels lead to promotion of plaque in the arteries. Folate-rich foods have also been shown to lower uric acid levels by inhibiting purine formation.”

The bottom line, Dorrestein said, is that “Current science is suggesting sugary food and drinks promote cancer, while more fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with negative risks.”

Meanwhile, it may be worth exploring further the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil as a potential lung cancer treatment, suggest doctors in BMJ Case Reports after dealing with a daily user whose lung tumour shrank without the aid of conventional treatment.

The body’s own endocannabinoids are involved in various processes, including nerve function, emotion, energy metabolism, pain and inflammation, sleep and immune function.

Chemically similar to these endocannabinoids, cannabinoids can interact with signalling pathways in cells, including cancer cells. They have been studied for use as a primary cancer treatment, but the results have been inconsistent.

Lung cancer remains the second most common cancer in the United Kingdom (UK). Despite treatment advances, survival rates remain low at around 15 per cent five years after diagnosis. And average survival without treatment is around seven months.

The report authors describe the case of a woman in her 80s, diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. She also had mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), osteoarthritis, and high blood pressure, for which she was taking various drugs.

She was a smoker, getting through around a pack plus of cigarettes every week (68 packs/year). Her tumour was 41 mm in size at diagnosis, with no evidence of local or further spread, so was suitable for conventional treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. But the woman refused treatment, so was placed under ‘watch and wait’ monitoring, which included regular Computerised Tomography (CT) scans every three-six months.

A CT scan or computed tomography scan is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to get detailed images of the body noninvasively for diagnostic purposes.

These showed that the tumour was progressively shrinking, reducing in size from 41 mm in June 2018 to 10 mm by February 2021, equal to an overall 76 per cent reduction in maximum diameter, averaging 2.4 per cent a month, say the report authors. When contacted in 2019 to discuss her progress, the woman revealed that she had been taking CBD oil as an alternative self-treatment for her lung cancer since August 2018, shortly after her original diagnosis.

She had done so on the advice of a relative, after witnessing her husband struggle with the side effects of radiotherapy. She said she consistently took 0.5 ml of the oil, usually three times a day, but sometimes twice.

The supplier had advised that the main active ingredients were Δ9-­tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at 19.5 per cent, cannabidiol at around 20 per cent, and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) at around 24 per cent.

The supplier also advised that hot food or drinks should be avoided when taking the oil, as she might otherwise feel stoned. The woman said she had reduced appetite since taking the oil but had no other obvious ‘side effects’. There were no other changes to her prescribed meds, diet, or lifestyle. And she continued to smoke throughout.

This is just one case report, with only one other similar case reported, caution the authors. And it is not clear which of the CBD oil ingredients might have been helpful.

“We are unable to confirm the full ingredients of the CBD oil that the patient was taking or to provide information on which of the ingredient(s) may be contributing to the observed tumour regression,” they pointed out.

And they emphasised: “Although there appears to be a relationship between the intake of CBD oil and the observed tumour regression, we are unable to conclusively confirm that the tumour regression is due to the patient taking CBD oil.”

Cannabis has a long ‘medicinal’ history in modern medicine; having been first introduced in 1842 for its analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and anticonvulsant effects. And it is widely believed that cannabinoids can help people with chronic pain, anxiety and sleep disorders; cannabinoids are also used in palliative care, the authors add.

“More research is needed to identify the actual mechanism of action, administration pathways, safe dosages, its effects on different types of cancer and any potential adverse side effects when using cannabinoids,” they concluded.

Meanwhile, researchers in a study published in the journal Food & Function demonstrated that Mucuna pruriens treatment showed anti-obesity and intestinal health effects in obese rats.

The study evaluated the anti-obesity effect and intestinal health of obese rats treated with Mucuna pruriens (MP), focusing on food consumption and somatic, biochemical, and histological parameters. A total of 32 adult male Wistar rats were initially randomised into a healthy group (HG, n = 16), which consumed a control diet, and an obese group (OG, n = 16), which consumed a cafeteria diet for eight weeks. They were then subdivided into four groups: healthy (HG, n = 8); healthy treated with MP (HGMP, n = 8); obese (OG, n = 8); obese treated with MP (OGMP, n = 8), with consumption of their respective diets continuing for another eight weeks; the treated groups received 750 mg kg−1 of MP extract via gavage.

Food consumption and body weight were monitored weekly. Glucose and insulin tolerance tests were performed, and feces were collected for bacterial count and quantification of organic acids. The rats were euthanised; their blood was collected for biochemical analysis, organs and adipose tissue for histological analysis and carcasses for body composition. The obese rats showed a preference for processed meat, stuffed biscuits, popcorn, hot dog sausages, Bologna and ham.

The OGMP exhibited lower caloric intake (17 per cent), body weight (14 per cent), fat mass (44 per cent), triglycerides (68 per cent), insulin (58 per cent), leptin (40 per cent), C-reactive protein (75 per cent) and alpha1-glycoprotein acid (62 per cent) and increased High Density Lipo-protein, HDL/ ‘good’ cholesterol (45 per cent) compared to the OG. Moreover, MP reversed changes in liver and adipose tissues induced by obesity and increased counts of lactic acid bacteria and organic acids in faeces. “The MP treatment demonstrated an anti-obesity effect with improvement in body composition, biochemical profile, and intestinal health of obese rats,” the researchers concluded.