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Artemisinin is a medicinal herb that is widely used to treat Malaria. Recent studies have shown that this “miracle herb” has anti-cancer effects and can also boost the immune system!
What is Artemisinin?
Artemisinin (ART) is a plant-derived compound, isolated from the Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood a herb employed in Chinese herbal medicine.
This compound (along with its derivative drugs), is the World Health Organization’s recommended treatment against malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum (R).
The drug has been so effective in treating the disease, that the discoverer Youyou Tu had received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (R).
A number of semi-synthetic derivatives were also prepared from this herb for use in malaria combat programs, best among them include Artemether, Artesunate and Artenimol (β-dihydro-artemisinin, DHA) (R).
- About 90% effective in treating P. falciparum malaria
- Exhibits Anti-cancer effects
- Boosts the Immune system
- Shows some Antimicrobial properties
- Side effects might include nausea, dizziness.
- Not much research for effects against cancer.
1) Artemisinin is an Effective Anti-Malarial and Prevents Other Infections
Artemisinin is about 90% effective in curing uncomplicated malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum (R). However, the widespread use of drug monotherapy has resulted in the development of resistance in malarial parasites.
When this drug is used in combination with other antimalarial drugs, P. falciparum is highly unlikely to become drug resistant, hence WHO has recommended the use of Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACT) (R).
Several combination therapies (ART with other antimalarial drugs) have shown high efficacy against sexual and asexual stages of both chloroquine resistant and sensitive P. vivax (R).
Artemisinin extracts have antimicrobial activity against periodontopathic microbes like Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Fusobacterium nucleatum subsp. animalis, Fusobacterium nucleatum subsp. polymorphum, and Prevotella intermedia (R).
2) Artemisinin Helps Prevent Cancer
In one Randomized controlled trial Artesunate combined with NP (a chemotherapy regimen of vinorelbine and cisplatin) could elevate the short-term survival rate and prolonged the TPP (time to progression) of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (R, R2).
Long-term treatment of two metastatic uveal melanoma patients with Artemisinin in combination with standard chemotherapy showed a significant improvement (R).
Artemether treatment was beneficial in improving the quality of life of a 75-year old male patient with pituitary macroadenoma (R).
Artemisinin and Resveratrol possessed a synergistic anti-tumor effect, this combination could be an effective therapeutic strategy for cancer (R).
It induced antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects in HPV-39 infected human cervical cancer cells (R).
3) Artemisinin is an Anti-Inflammatory and an Immune Booster
Artemisinin and its derivatives have shown positive immune and anti-inflammatory effects as well (R). In lab experiments, they could inhibit IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-8 production from synovial cells of RA patients (R).
Acetone extract showed the greatest inhibitory effect on lipopolysaccharide-induced nitric oxide (NO), prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and proinflammatory cytokine (R).
Artemisinin inhibits sympathetic remodelling after myocardial infarction, possibly by its anti-inflammatory effects (R).
It also suppresses TNF-α expression and T-helper 1 (Th)/Th17 responses in TNBs colitis model (a possible potential therapy for Crohn’s disease) (R).
It could selectively enhance the T-cell function both in normal mice and mice with syngeneic bone marrow transplantation (R).
4) Artemisinin for Autoimmune and Allergic Diseases
Artemisinin derivatives were found to significantly improve lupus nephritis, reduce and suppress TNF-alpha production from peritoneal macrophages (R).
These derivatives were reported to treat Experimental Allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) in a well-established mouse model by regulating the balance between effector T cells and regulatory T cells (R1, R2, R3).
An appropriate dose depends on several factors like age, health condition etc (R).
A treatment schedule of 2×500 mg of Artemisinin (oral dose) per day could be advised based on one study (R).
A single dose of 500 mg is effective in reducing parasitemia in non-severe falciparum malaria and is well tolerated (R).
Possible Side Effects
Side effects are similar to the symptoms of malaria: nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and dizziness (R).
A rare but serious adverse effect is an allergic reaction (R).
Artemisinin treatment can cause the red blood cells to rupture particularly in those with predisposing factors for anemia (R).
- A mutation in the PfATP6 gene is associated with artemisinin resistance (R).
- Mutations in Plasmodium falciparum gene kelch13 (pfkelch13) are associated with the drug resistance (R1, R2).
- Artesunate is a potential activator of the Nrf2/ARE-dependent pathway (R).
- Many emphasize the importance of the peroxide bridge present in this drug, which is specifically responsible for its mechanism of action (R).
- In terms of immune disease, ART induces the production of regulatory T Cells and suppresses the pro-inflammatory Th17 cells (R).
- Reduces airway inflammation probably by the regulation of P13k/Akt, and decreasing NF-kB activity (R).
- The Anti-tumor effect was enhanced by transferrin-mediated carbon nanotubes both in cultured breast cancer cells and in the tumor-bearing mouse model (R1, R2, R).
- Pegylated nano liposomal Artemisinin was more effective than nano liposomal one in the treatment of breast cancer (R).
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