Both human and animal studies have shown evidence for the use of ashwagandha as an anti-cancer herb. Lab and some animal studies show that ashwagandha components slow the growth of many types of cancer cells, including:4,10,15,38
- Central nervous system (CNS)
How does it work?
Numerous studies demonstrate that Ashwagandhanda works in multiple ways to help prevent or stop the growth of the often deadly disease of cancer:15
- Antioxidant protection of normal cells against cancer23
- Pro-oxidant attacks against cancer cells15
- Enhances the effects of chemotherapy and radiation against cancer cells23
- Protects normal cells against damage from conventional cancer therapy4
- Effectively stops growth of treatment-resistant cancer cell lines15,23
- Stops angiogenesis—the creation of new blood vessels that feed cancer and help it grow and spread23
- Binds to and blocks proteins that cancers need to grow38
- Stimulates proteins that help keep normal cells stable39-40
Evidence of Benefit
Out of 13 different constituents in ashwagandha, 10 of them showed anticancer activity against four difference cancer cell lines (lung, colon, breast, and CNS). The potency of the effect was dependent upon the dosage level. Withaferin A, a steroidal constituent of ashwaghanda.38 had the strongest effect against all four—even more than the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin against the breast and colon cancer lines.15
Animal studies show ashwagandha can enhance the effects of conventional cancer treatments on cancer while simultaneously protecting healthy cells from negative side effects.4 For example, in studies involving mice with fibrosarcoma and treatment-resistant melanoma tumors, ashwagandha extracts increased the effectiveness of radiation in killing cancer cells by sensitizing them.23
While ashwagandha provides antioxidant protection against oxidative stress produced by tumor cells and some conventional treatments, it in fact increases the susceptibility of cancer tumor cells to oxidative damage from free radicals.15
One of the ways that ashwagandha prevents cancer from proliferating and spreading is by interrupting cell division and inhibiting the development of new blood vessels that feed the voracious cancer cells. An animal study modeling lung cancer demonstrated that ashwagandha supported the chemotherapeutic activity of paclitaxel while its antioxidant properties reduced the oxidative stress caused by the tumors.23
In pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive and deadly types of cancer, lab studies indicate that one of the withaferin A significantly stimulates cell death in a number of pancreatic cancer cell lines. Withaferin A appears to target and limit the activity of a specific protein (Hsp90) that binds with and helps other proteins mature that then stimulate and promote the growth and survival of cancer cells. Lab and animal research (using grafted human pancreatic tumors) shows that it blocks Hsp90’s cancer-promoting activity in at least four different ways. This makes withaferin A different than other known Hsp90 inhibitors and may explain its potency against pancreatic tumors.38
Water extracts of ashwagandha leaves, which also contain withaferin A, may offer a treatment option for another particularly deadly cancer—glioma. One of the most prevalent types of brain tumors, there are few conventional treatment options for this aggressive and invasive cancer.39
Lab studies show that ashwagandha blocks the growth and metastatic potential of glioma tumors and at high doses kills the tumor cells. Ashwagandha stimulates Hsp70, a heat-shock protein called mortalin. High levels of this protein are found in brain cell mitochondria that helps regulate mitochondria and normal cell functioning, while dysfunctional mitochondria are associated with cancer. Ashwagandha also appeared to stimulate production of two other proteins that help control the growth and spread of glioma tumor cells.39-40
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Oxidative stress from free radicals can cause tissue damage.
A process called angiogenesis.
Heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90).