Ayurveda the traditional medicine system of India uses numerous naturally occurring botanicals to treat many diseases. The most common formula used in Ayurvedic Medicine is Triphala. This herbal formulation of Triphala comprises of equal proportions of three fruits: Amalaki, Haritaki and Bibhitaki. Triphala is a rasayana; Sanskrit term given to those medicaments that improve general health and prolong life.
Scientific studies indicate that Triphala has anti-cancer properties. Listed below is the compelling scientific evidence supporting the anti-cancer properties Triphala. For example, studies have shown that Triphala elevates levels of free radical scavenging activity with a parallel decrease of oxidative stress when tested in rat brain.
In 1997 Nandi et al published a study in the British Journal of Cancer showing that dietary supplementation of Amalaki in mice significantly reduced the cytotoxic effects of a known carcinogen. Subsequent in-vivo studies showed that treating mice with different doses of Triphala for five days before irradiation delayed the onset of mortality and reduced the symptoms of radiation sickness when compared with the non-drug treated irradiated controls. These findings demonstrate that this ancient Ayurvedic formulation significantly protects mice against radiation-induced lethality.
In Feb 2005, a research study revealed that gallic acid which is a major polyphenol constituent in Triphala suppressed the growth of cancer cell lines: MCF-7 breast cancer cell line and prostate cancer cell line (PC-3 and DU-145).
Tannins are polyphenols, which occur in vascular plant tissues. There are two major forms: condensed and hydrolysable; hydrolysable tannins consist of gallic acids. Gallic acid acts as a free radical scavenger and Gallic acid is a major polyphenol found in Triphala.
However, the best evidence comes from research studies by Sandhya et al in 2006. Sandhya’s team investigated the effects of Triphala on human breast cancer cell line (MCF-7) and a transplantable mouse thymic lymphoma (barcl-95). They found that Triphala induced apoptosis in MCF-7 and barcl-95 cells in-vitro with a proportion of apoptotic cells dependent on Triphala concentration. When MCF-7cells was treated with Triphala, the gel electrophoresis result revealed a pattern of DNA damage, characteristic of apoptosis. We know that Apoptosis occurs when a cell actively terminates itself via various molecular signalling pathways. The rate of apoptosis is of major importance in tissue homeostasis. Under normal circumstances, when DNA gets damaged, either the cell dies by apoptosis or the DNA is able to repair itself. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not repaired and the apoptotic pathways are affected resulting in the survival of cancerous cell. The main function of apoptosis is to dispose of a cell without causing damage or stress to neighbouring cells; this is sometimes described as a ‘selective biochemical execution’. Sandhya’s group verified that Triphala selectively destroys the cancerous cell via an apoptotic pathway, which in itself is an exciting breakthrough in the scientific research studies of herbal medicines. The same study also revealed that apoptosis was significantly higher in the excised tumour tissue of Triphala fed mice (40 mg/kg body weight) as compared to the control, further indicating the involvement of apoptosis in tumour growth reduction. These researchers further provided evidence that Triphala’s cytotoxic effect occurs exclusively in tumour cells and possibly through p53 mediated apoptosis. p53 is a 53 kilodalton nuclear phosphoprotein, which is a common mutated gene in human cancer.
A more recent research paper has shown that That Triphala has dose-dependent antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects on a colon cancer cell line (HCT116 cells), The researchers concluded that Triphala may be an effective chemopreventive agent against colon cancer.
With many anticancer drugs lacking selectivity and possessing many side effects perhaps ancient herbal remedies like Triphala that exhibits radioprotectivity and tumour specificity with no side effects, provide a serious rationale for more intensive scientific and clinical investigations on Triphala as an Integrative Medicine resource for the prevention and management of cancer.