Preclinical studies on ovarian, cervical and breast cancer cells have shown that the extract from the neem plant (neem extract supplements), traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, has anticancer properties. In combination with Cisplatin, neem extract supplements enhanced its cytotoxicity and was also able to reduce the cisplatin mediated kidney and liver toxicity in animal models. Clinical studies of neem extract in cancer patients are lacking, but neem extract supplements seem to be a potential natural remedy for cancer .
Gynecological cancers include cervical, ovarian and breast cancers that are major causes of morbidity and mortality in women globally. Cervical Cancer is strongly associated with human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, independent of other risk factors, and affects younger women between 30 and 40 years. Ovarian cancer affects over 200,000 women globally and has a poor prognosis when it is usually diagnosed at a later stage of the disease that has spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women with a slightly better prognosis than ovarian and cervical cancers. However, any cancer diagnosis comes with fear and anxiety of the impending consequences and the urge to do everything possible to fight the disease.
One option that many cancer patients and their loved ones look at are taking herbal and natural supplements that have anti-cancer properties, can boost the immune system, and help deal with the side-effects of the prescribed chemotherapy treatments. Many surveys of cancer patients across different medical centers have determined that 60-80% of cancer patients and survivors used some form of natural supplement. (Judson PL et al, Integr Cancer Ther., 2017; Cancer Research UK) One such plant supplement that has a lot of scientific data on its anti-cancer properties is the extract from Azadirachta indica (Neem), a medicinal plant of Indian origin (Moga MA et al, Int. J Mol Sci, 2018; Hao F et al, Biochim Biophys Acta, 2014). The extract from the bark, seeds, leaves, flowers and fruits of the neem plant has been traditionally used in Ayurveda, Unani and homeopathic medicines for its many therapeutic properties.
Anti -Cancer Properties of Neem Extract Supplements
The key mechanisms of anti-cancer activity of the active ingredients in neem extract involve increasing the toxicity of the cancer cell by regulating its surrounding microenvironment, and controlling the nutrient supply to the tumor by blocking new blood vessels from forming in the growing tumor. A scientific study showed that the neem extract can block vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that is needed for the sprouting of new blood vessels needed for tumor growth (Mahapatra S et al, Evid. Based Complement Alternat. Med., 2012). Studies across many different types of cancer cells have demonstrated the cytotoxic activity of neem extract and the many targets and pathways that are mediating the therapeutic impact of neem (Hao F et al, Biochim Biophys Acta, 2014).
Neem Extract Supplements can Complement Cisplatin Chemotherapy in Gynecologic Cancer:
Experimental studies have tested the effect of neem extract supplements on ovarian, breast and cervical cancer cells, demonstrating that not only did the neem extract by itself reduce the proliferation of the cancer cells, but in combination with Cisplatin, the most commonly used chemotherapy in these cancers, neem extract supplements enhanced the cytotoxicity of Cisplatin (Kamath SG et al, Int. J Gynecol. Cancer, 2009; Sharma C et al, J Oncol. 2014). Additionally studies in animal models of these cancers (ovarian, breast and cervical cancer) have also shown that neem extract supplements can reduce the toxicities of the kidney and liver caused by Cisplatin (Moneim, AEA et al, Biol. Med. Res. Int., 2014; Shareef M et al, Matrix Sci. Med., 2018). These studies suggest that neem extract may help to improve chemotherapy response in Gynecological Cancers.
Caution about Using Neem Extract Supplements
With the beneficial effects of the neem extract supplement, one also needs to be cautious with using this without medical consultation. In the US, azadirachtin, an active ingredient in neem extract, is used as a non-toxic pesticide. The dosage and formulation of neem extract supplements is important for getting the right benefit, and a very high dose of 15 mg/kg in humans could be toxic (Boeke SJ et al, Ethnopharmacol, 2004).
In summary, the benefits of using neem extract supplements for gynecological cancers are supported by many experimental studies on similar disease models as used to test the approved drugs. The scientific understanding on its anti-cancer mechanisms of actions have been determined. But the one key missing gap is lack of clinical data in human subjects which could enable us to use neem extract supplement as part of the cancer patients’ diet, a potential natural remedy for cancer, with more confidence and ease.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.