Fatty oils from Chinese medicine demonstrate anti-cancer properties
05/19/2020 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Humans have used herbs as medicine for thousands of years. Besides those that have also found use in the kitchen, some of the most well-known medicinal herbs are those used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These herbs have been extensively studied because of their beneficial properties, which could treat a wide variety of diseases.

It is now an established fact that the active compounds present in medicinal herbs are responsible for their biological activities. These compounds belong to different classes, such as alkaloids, glycosides, polyphenols and terpenes. But according to researchers at Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, other, less extensively studied plant components may also contribute to the therapeutic benefits medicinal herbs offer.

In an article published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, the researchers reviewed the anti-cancer effects of fatty oils from TCM herbs based on the theories of fu zheng and qu xie. They reported that these fatty oils work against cancer mainly by enhancing the activity of immune cells (fu zheng) or by triggering cell death (qu xie).

Fatty oils derived from TCM herbs exhibit anti-cancer activities

Cancer management is a global challenge that, at present, relies mostly on chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. However, these harsh methods don't always deliver satisfactory results. In addition, they come with plenty of side effects that can negatively impact the quality of life of cancer patients. Hence many are now seeking alternative and/or complementary treatments to avoid the adverse effects of conventional cancer therapies.


Natural treatments based on TCM or that involve a combination of TCM and modern medicine have gained attention recently, particularly in Asian countries. One potential TCM approach is the use of plant-derived fatty oils, which contain fatty acids that serve as active ingredients. These fatty acids exhibit a wide range of pharmacological activities that are useful for cancer treatment.

In TCM, cancer treatment strategies are classified into either fu zheng (immunity-boosting) or qu xie (apoptosis-inducing). Examples of each are coix seed oil, which is derived from the seeds of the grain-bearing tropical plant called adlay or Job's tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), and kosam oil from the medicinal shrub called Java brucea (Brucea javanica), respectively.

Coix seed oil is the most commonly used natural cancer treatment in China. Besides preventing the growth of cancer cells, coix seed oil also inhibits the expression of genes involved in cancer invasion and metastasis. Additionally, coix seed oil is an effective remedy against pain caused by cancer. In a study published in Supportive Care in Cancer, researchers found that coix seed oil injection provides pain relief to cancer patients, thus improving their quality of life.

Kosam oil, on the other hand, is often used as an adjunct to chemotherapy, especially for the treatment of lung carcinoma, brain metastasis of lung carcinoma and gastrointestinal tumors. Besides enhancing the performance of anti-cancer drugs, kosam oil also relieves adverse drug reactions, such as myelosuppression (decreased bone marrow activity), neutropenia (low levels of neutrophils), thrombopenia (abnormally low platelet count) and liver damage.

The researchers hope that their review can attract more interest in the anti-cancer potential of fatty oils and serve as a reference for future studies.

Culinary herbs and spices and their fatty acid content

In a study published in The Scientific World Journal, Saudi Arabian researchers looked at the chemical composition and fatty acid content of some common spices and herbs, such as cress, mustard, black cumin, black pepper, fenugreek and clove. Besides having an abundance or fiber, the researchers found that these herbs and spices also contain high amounts of minerals, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron.

In terms of fatty acid content, the researchers found that cress and mustard contain mostly linolenic acid and erucic acid, respectively. Meanwhile, linoleic acid was the major fatty acid present in black cumin, fenugreek, black pepper and clove oils. Mustard contained the highest amount of unsaturated fatty acids, followed by fenugreek, clove, black cumin, cress and black pepper. (Related: Essential Fatty Acids are Essential for Good Health.)

According to studies, plant-derived linolenic acid has cardioprotective and cholesterol-lowering properties while erucic acid, in contrast, has heart-damaging effects when consumed in large quantities. Linolenic acid, on the other hand, is an essential fatty acid that helps prevent and treat diseases that affect heart and blood vessels. There is substantial evidence suggesting that linolenic acid also has blood pressure-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it effective against allergic and inflammatory conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy dietary fats that promote good health. Learn more about their health benefits at Nutrients.news.

Sources include:




TAndFOnline.com [PDF]

Hindawi.com 1

Hindawi.com 2



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