Science & Technology: Popular Herbal Supplement Hinders Growth of Pancreatic Cancer Cells

Issue Date: 
April 29, 2007

A new study by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) suggests that a commonly used herbal supplement, triphala, has cancer-fighting properties that prevent or slow the growth of pancreatic cancer tumors implanted in mice.

The study found that an extract of triphala—the dried and powdered fruits of the amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki trees—caused pancreatic cancer cells to die through a process called apoptosis—the body’s normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells. This process often is faulty in cancer cells.

Triphala, one of the world’s most popular herbal preparations, is used to treat intestinal disorders. Typically taken with water, it is thought to promote appetite and digestion and to increase the number of red blood cells.

“We discovered that triphala fed orally to mice with human pancreatic tumors was an extremely effective inhibitor of the cancer process, inducing apoptosis in cancer cells,” said Sanjay K. Srivastava, the UPCI study’s lead investigator and an assistant professor in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology. “Triphala triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumors without causing any toxic side effects.

“Our results demonstrate that triphala has strong anticancer properties given its ability to induce apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells without damaging normal pancreatic cells,” Srivastava continued. “With follow-up studies, we hope to demonstrate its potential use as a novel agent for the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

Results of the UPCI study were presented during the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 14-18, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.