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Plant-Based Cancer Drug: The Healing Power We’ve Been Waiting For?

There’s a lot of talk about plant-based diets these days. Add to that the hundreds of research studies that demonstrate the remarkable healing properties of plants without any dangerous side effects. So, it’s no surprise that there’s a potential new cancer drug on the horizon that’s plant-based. It’s called noscapine.

Humans have a lengthy history of using plants for medicinal purposes, partly because of their healing qualities and partly because of their low toxicity. In fact, many of today’s most popular drugs have their foundation in plants. The most common example is aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid. A precursor to aspirin, called salicylate, was found in the willow tree and dates back to ancient Greece.

Around 400 B.C. legendary doctor Hippocrates regularly brewed salicylate into a tea to reduce fevers. In 1853 a French chemist, Charles Frédéric Gerhardt, made aspirin for the first time, and by 1897, scientists at drug company Bayer had perfected a new way to manufacture it.

As with salicylate, noscapine isn’t new. Noscapine is a member of the poppy family and was first extracted in 1817 by Pierre-Jean Rubiquet of the Paris School of Pharmacy. Odorless and bitter, noscapine is a fine white powder and makes up as much as 12 percent of the opium seed. However, it has no addictive properties and won’t send you into a state of euphoria like other extracts from the poppy family.

Noscapine was first used as an anti-malaria drug toward the end of the 19th century, but by 1930 was considered useless in this capacity. That same year, its powers as a cough suppressant were discovered, and since then noscapine has been used worldwide as a safe cough suppressant. In modern medicine, noscapine has been on the radar for a good 60 years now, but only recently have there been breakthroughs leading to a better understanding of its role in human health.

Protects Against Brain Damage

In 2003, scientists found noscapine can prevent brain damage in those who’ve suffered from a stroke. A protein called bradykinin is produced following a stroke, causing inflammation and blood vessel dilation. Noscapine halts this damaging process and is considered an effective drug for improving the survival of stroke victims. Following those findings, researchers began testing higher dosages than what’s used to stop damage from strokes and found noscapine can play an important role against cancer.

Interrupts Cancer Growth

Scientists found noscapine can induce apoptosis in cancer cells because of its ability to modulate microtubules, structures required for cell division in cancer cells, as well as regulate mitochondrial damage in cells. A study published last year in the journal OncoTargets and Therapy confirmed noscapine is able to induce apoptosis in malignant human colon cancer cells without any detectable toxicity.

Researchers said these findings are especially important since colon cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. In a similar study from the journal AAPS PharmSciTech, noscapine nanoparticles successfully targeted human breast cancer cells. In this study, researchers combined noscapine with the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin to treat breast cancer tumors. They also tested noscapine alone. In both cases, noscapine was effective. What’s more, the combination regimen also appeared to lower the toxicity of the drug Doxorubicin. Now, clinical trials are underway.

Making Enough Noscapine to Go Around

One of the challenges of using noscapine in cancer treatment is cultivating noscapinoids, which are the active compounds that give this plant extract its healing power. Noscapinoids are isolated from noscapine found in the opium poppy. As a result, opium poppy farming remains the sole source of noscapine. Fortunately, researchers are working on new ways to engineer noscapine -- out of yeast strains, in fact-- so the supply chain won’t have to rely only on farming, which of course is the source of the dangerous addictive drugs.

Cancer Defeated first drew attention to noscapine years ago. At the time, it was only available to the public in cough medicine, and drinking large amounts of cough medicine was not a safe or practical way to treat cancer. I’m glad to see this may be changing and the public may soon reap the benefits of this natural substance.

If noscapine turns out to be truly effective in battling human cancer, let’s hope that the cancer industry will find an acceptable way to cultivate this amazing plant compound and begin using it with patients. Unfortunately, we’ve had a history in this country of the cancer industry shutting out natural, effective solutions to cancer to instead promote patented drug treatments, radiation, and surgery.

Ancient Mountain Herb Used by Astronauts Contains Unique Anti-Cancer Properties

People living in the Altai Mountains in Siberia so valued an herb for increasing energy and stamina that it became well-regarded across the Soviet Union in the 1940s. Eventually, the Soviets supplied this herb to their athletes, soldiers, and astronauts to boost energy and reduce physical and mental fatigue.

Modern-day science shows they were on to something. This herb called Rhodiola not only increases physical energy, but it can also help treat a number of health conditions, including cancer. Sometimes known as "golden root," Rhodiola rosea L grows well in cold temperatures, low oxygen, and intense sunlight. That’s why you’ll find it in mountainous regions around the world, including North America. The herb grows up to 2½ feet in height and produces yellow blossoms.

To protect itself and flourish in these unfavorable environments, Rhodiola produces powerful compounds that have been shown to protect the health of the human body.

Praised by Early Greek Physician

The first use of the herb as medicine was recorded by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in his medical manual, De materia medica two thousand years ago. More recently, Rhodiola has been used in the traditional medical systems of Russia, Asia, Scandinavia, and other European countries. In traditional folk medicine, Rhodiola root is used for treating everything from fatigue and depression to impotence and tuberculosis. Folk healers in Mongolia were among the first to use it to treat cancer.

Although there are a very large number of Rhodiola species, R rosea is by far the most well-researched, and of the 140 compounds that have been isolated, it contains three that set it apart from other Rhodiola species.

Stress-busting, Cancer-fighting Compounds

These pharmacologically active components are rosarin, rosavin, and rosin, which together are called rosavins. Another active compound found in rosea and other species of Rhodiola is called salidroside. Standardized extracts of R rosea used in dietary supplements usually contain three percent rosavins and one percent salidroside but these these percentages can be higher than this.

In modern day medical research, a standardized extract of Rhodiola called SHR-5 is often used. This extract contains 4.5 percent of total rosavins and 1.7 percent of salidroside. Many of the other compounds found in the plant such as flavonoids, terpines and phenolic acids may also individually account for some of its health benefits or they may act in synergy with the known active components to increase the body’s resilience to stress.

Russian scientists describe R rosea as an adaptogen, which means it provides nonspecific resistance to physical, emotional, chemical and biological stresses. Adaptogens allow the body to minimize negative reactions that come with chronic stress, a risk factor for cancer and its progression.

Studies demonstrate that plant-based adaptogens can also reduce the risk of cancers through multiple mechanisms which are often linked to activating many aspects of the immune system. These include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, immune stimulating and DNA repair enhancing mechanisms.

Anti-cancer Activity in Cellular Studies

Hundreds of studies have been conducted with R rosea over the last 60 years including research into cancer. For example, researchers from the University of California, Irvine demonstrated that SHR-5 selectively inhibits the growth of bladder cancer cell lines with minimal effect on non-malignant bladder cells.

The researchers report that this effect came about through three mechanisms of Rhodiola. First, the herb inhibited a signaling pathway called mTOR, which plays a central role in cancer initiation and progression. Second, it induced autophagy, a process that suppresses tumor growth by inhibiting cancer-cell survival and inducing cell death.

Finally, SHR-5 also, under certain conditions, showed potential for boosting the cancer suppressor gene p53. The researchers report that in breast cancer cells, salidroside alone "significantly inhibited cell proliferation, colony formation, migration and invasion, as well as induced cell apoptosis [death] and cell cycle arrest..."

Salidroside also induced apoptosis and autophagy in human colorectal cancer cells and has demonstrated anti-cancer effects in human gastric, glioma (brain), lung and fibrosarcoma (connective tissue) cancer cells. What’s more, a Chinese herbal formula which combines Rhodiola rosea with five other herbs triggered gastric cancer cell death by autophagy.

Anti-cancer Activity in Animal Research

In spite of the benefits seen in cellular research, there are only a limited number of animal studies. In a mouse model, angiogenesis - blood vessel growth which allows cancer cells to spread to other tissues - was induced by transplanting sarcoma cells into the skin. An extract from a different species called R quadfida, together with salidroside, "highly significantly decreased" angiogenesis.

In a rat model of transplanted adenocarcinoma (cancer that forms in mucus-secreting glands) and lymphosarcoma (a form of leukemia), Rhodiola rosea extracts inhibited cancer cell growth, decreased spread to the liver, and extended survival time.

In addition, Rhodiola rosea root extract enhanced the anti-tumor and anti-metastasic effect of a chemotherapy drug as well as reduced drug-induced toxicity in mice with transplanted tumors.

Suppresses Breast and Bladder Cancer

In a mouse model of bladder cancer, SHR-5 was given to male mice in drinking water starting at six weeks of age and ending at six months of age. About 42 percent of mice given normal water died within six months, while 93 percent of the SHR-5 mice survived. Plus, the bladder weights of the male and female mice drinking SHR-5 decreased by 69 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared to the control group.

The researchers wrote, "...our results suggest a potential new method for bladder cancer prevention by drinking SHR-5..."

Interestingly, the researchers also tested the diabetes drug metformin in a third group of the mice. This drug is used by some integrative oncologists because it has demonstrated strong anti-cancer activity. SHR-5 outperformed metformin. In addition, salidroside treatment significantly suppressed tumor growth in a mouse model of breast cancer. The researchers concluded that "these findings suggest that salidroside may be a promising candidate target for the prevention and treatment of human breast cancer."

Another mouse study examining the development of breast cancer concluded with researchers saying that "salidroside may be a promising therapeutic drug to help prevent smoking-induced breast cancer lung metastasis..."

Reduces Bladder Cancer Relapse in People

In spite of the very many benefits seen in clinical research, the only human study was carried out in Russia in 1995. It showed that 12 patients with superficial bladder cancer taking Rhodiola rosea extract by mouth reduced frequency of relapses by half.

University of California, Irvine scientists, in reviewing the herb, concluded that "Rhodiola rosea extracts and salidroside are unique chemopreventive agents, which not only have anti-cancer and anti-inflammation activity, but also strengthen or stimulate normal physiological functions, such as immunity, stress response and DNA repair.

"Rhodiola rosea extracts and salidroside could confer cellular and systemic benefits of metabolism similar to the effect of positive lifestyle interventions."

Although the herb seems to have a good deal of potential to prevent and treat cancer, no human trials are planned—and this isn’t surprising. The conventional cancer treatment industry focuses almost exclusively on drug treatments while ignoring or even banning natural treatments, regardless of their success rate.

But doctors in other areas of medicine are already turning to Rhodiola for its incredible adaptogenic health benefits. There are human clinical trials either planned or in progress to see if Rhodiola rosea can help with ADHD, depression, fatigue, exercise performance, coronary artery disease, angina, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Best regards,

Lee Euler,


  1. “Plant-Based Drugs as an Adjuvant to Cancer Chemotherapy.” By Lakshmi Mohan, Open access peer-reviewed chapter;
  2. “Noscapine Induces Apoptosis in Human Colon Cancer Cells by Regulating Mitochondrial Damage and Warburg Effect via PTEN/PI3K/mTOR Signaling Pathway.” By Xia Tian, et al. Onco Targets Ther. 2020; 13: 5419–5428.
  3. “Noscapine comes of age.” By Xue Chen, et al. Review: Phytochemistry. 2015 Mar;111:7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2014.09.008. Epub 2015 Jan 9.
  4. “Complete biosynthesis of noscapine and halogenated alkaloids in yeast.” By Yanran Li, et al. PNAS April 24, 2018 115 (17) E3922-E3931; first published April 2, 2018.
  5. “A Combinational Approach Towards Treatment of Breast Cancer: an Analysis of Noscapine-Loaded Polymeric Nanoparticles and Doxorubicin.” By Seyedeh Sara Esnaashari, et al. AAPS PharmSciTech volume 21, Article number: 166 (2020).
  8. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens. Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention.
  9. Editors: Lee Euler and Susan Clark Contributing Editors: Carl Lowe, Mindy Tyson McHorse, Carol Parks and Michael Sellar Technology Managers: Adam Smith and Matt Barrett Fulfillment & Customer Service: Joe Ackerson and Cami Lemr Chief Operating Officer: Jeremey Hunsicker