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Herbal Cancer Treatment: Catharanthus roseaus

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Herbal Cancer Treatment: Catharanthus roseaus

Vineeta, Rajeew Kumar, Vishwanath*, Ramphool Puniya and Debjani Sanyal
Department of Agronomy, Department of Plant Pathology*
College of Agriculture
G.B.P.U.A. & T., Pantnagar,


Herbal cancer therapy comprises a number of alternative treatments in the fight against cancer like:

Taxus cuspidate: Taxus cuspidate contains the substance "taxol" in their shoots and bark. Taxol is a broad spectrum anti-cancer chemotherapy drug in western medicine for the treatment of cancer of breast, uterus, ovary, kidney and lung.

Camptotheca acuminate: Its primary anti-cancer ingredient is a quinoline alkaloid called camptothin, which in turn has been modified to create a new group of anti-cancer drug, including irinotecan, topotecan, 9-aminocamtothecin and CPT-11. Comptothecin and these analogs are being investigated to treat a variety of cancers.

Catharanthus roseus: Catharanthus roseus is one of the few medicinal plants which has found mention in the folk medicinal literature as early as 2nd B.C. In Ayurveda, the leaves, the seeds, the flowers and the roots are used for treatment of leukemia, diabetes, menorrhagia. The root bark contains the alkaloid Alstonine which has been used traditionally for its calming effect and its ability to reduce blood pressure. The anti-cancer drug namely vincristine and vinblastin are produced from periwinkle.

Botanical name: Catharanthus roseus
English name: Periwinkle
Hindi name: Barmaasi
Sanskrit name: Sadafuli, Sadabahar


It is widely established in the wild throughout tropical regions of the world, commonly cultivated in gardens and homes and grown commercially for the pharmaceutical industry. In traditional medicine, the periwinkle has been used to treat a variety of ailments. It has anti-diabetic properties due to the presence of several highly toxic alkaloids in its tissues. Catharanthus roseus contains more than 70 alkaloids mostly of the indole type. It has medicinal importance owing to the presence of alkaloids like ajamalicine, serpentine and reserpine which are well known for theis hypotensive and antispasmodic properties.

More recently, extracts from periwinkle have been shown to be effective in the treatment of various kinds of cancers: Lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease, breast cancer, Acute Lymphocytic, Leukemia, Soft tissue sarcomas, Multiple Myeloma, Neuroblastoma. Chemicals present in Catharanthus roseus may also prevent the growth of new blood vessels that support tumor growth. A high number of white cells in the blood indicates leukemia, so it is used against the cancer. Two of the alkaloids in Catharanthus roseus (vinblastine and vincristine) have been isolated and developed into prescription ant-cancer drug. These injectable drug and their derivatives (such as vinorelbine) work by preventing mitosis in metaphase. These alkaloids bind to tubulin, thus preventing the cell from making the spindle, its needs to be able to divide. This is different from the action of taxol which interferes with cell division by keeping the spindles from being broken down.

Vinblastine is an anti-mitotic drug used to treat certain kinds of cancer, including Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer and testicular cancer. Vincristine (brand name Oncovin), also known as leurocristine, is a vinca alkaloid. It is a mitotic inhibitor and is used in cancer chemotherapy. Vincristine is mainly used to treat acute leukemia and other lymphomas. Using vinblastine and vincristine in combination with chemotherapy has resulted in 80 % remission in Hodgkin's disease, 99% remission in acute lymphocitic leukemia, 80% remission in Wilm's tumor, 70% in gestational chorioarcinoma and 50% remission in Burkitt's lymphoma.

Indeed, the plant has been used for centuries to treat iabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, constipation and menstrual problems but in modern days, periwinkle is a success story in the search for naturally occurring anticancer drug.

  warning         Warning: Periwinkle is poisonous if ingested or smoked. It has caused poisoning


in grazing animals. Even under a doctor's supervision for cancer treatment, products from periwinkle can cause undesirable side effects.

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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.