(CN) – Herbs can lift a bland soup or zest up a quiche, but now researchers say a batch of medicinal plants found on an island in the Indian Ocean have the potential to stop the spread of esophageal cancer.
A robust form of cancer found in the tract connecting the throat and the stomach, esophageal cancer strikes 1 in 132 men and about 1 in 455 in women, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2019, there will be an estimated 17,600 new diagnoses and 16,000 people will die as a result.
While the exact cause of the mutations that lead to this type of cancer are not exactly clear, risk factors include acid reflux disease, smoking, drinking alcohol, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and obesity.
Enter the medicinal herbs found on Mauritius. Researchers from the Far Eastern Federal University studied three unique plants for their medicinal properties, publishing the results of their study Monday in the journal Acta Naturae.
Extracts from five species of Mauritian plants were shown to restrain the growth of the transition stage in malignant tumor cells by activating a specific protein in the body.
Some of the plants included Acalypha integrifolia, a leafy green plant that has been used to treat intestinal worms, and Eugenia tinifolia, a perennial tree that has been used to treat kidney stones and inflammation in the urinary tract.
Three of the five active substances found in the plant species were shown to slow down the spread of esophageal cancer.
Researchers say the herbal extracts can activate the AMPK protein, a breakthrough for oncology research. Less than 15 percent of patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer survive for five years after their diagnosis; on average people live less than a year.
But Alexander Kagansky from the Center for Genomic and Regenerative Medicine of the School of Biomedicine said Mauritius and its biodiversity – which may hold the keys to the treatment or cure of many diseases – are under threat by the “tragedy of human greed, barbarian appetite and neglect of true wonders of the planet designed to save human lives.”
He added: “To date, only 15 percent of the island’s plant species have been examined for their medicinal properties, which is still better than in many countries.”
Without knowing the potential life-saving qualities of some of these plants, Kagansky said the future of global medicine could rely on these extracts, now at risk due to human development.