Local fruit tree holds key to malignant cancers
Posted Friday, September 4 2009 at 22:30
- Plant extract has shown a dramatic level of success in destroying cancerous cells in the human body
A close relative of a well-known fruit tree found in Ukambani, Taita and Voi could hold the key to a cure for some of the world’s untreatable cancers.
Commonly known as soursop or custard apple, the plant belonging to the Annona species has shown dramatic success in destroying lung, breast, prostate, colon, liver, ovarian, cervical, breast, bladder and skin cancerous cells.
Laboratory studies funded by the United States government through the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Health and carried out by Purdue University show that a chemical compound in the plant selectively kills cancerous cells, leaving healthy ones unscathed.
The most dramatic is a recent study by the Catholic University of South Korea and published in the Journal of Natural Products showing that an extract from the plant was 10,000 times more effective in killing colon cancer cells than the drug currently in use.
The Annona tree family has over 110 species mostly growing in the wild in many parts of the world, with the main ones being Annona muricata found in the Amazon rainforest and the Annona cherimola, which is found locally and is commonly known as matomoko.
The tomoko fruits that grow in the drier parts of the country are much smaller compared to recent hybrids that grow in higher areas in parts of Murang’a and Kirinyaga, in Central Kenya.
Mainly because of its abundance in the Amazon rainforest and proximity to major research institutions in the US, the Amazonian variety has received the biggest share of academic research and commercial attention.
Because of this attention, the Amazonian Annona has spawned a global commercial brand, Graviola, which is being traded in many parts of the world as a health supplement.
The supplements, which are readily available on the Internet, are touted as the ultimate cure for a host of ailments.
However, other members of the tree family have been found to contain the chemical ingredient Annonaceus acetogenins, which is responsible for its anti-cancer activity.
This chemical ingredient, found in most parts of the plant but in different quantities, has been shown in laboratory tests to have strong anti-tumour properties even when administered in very small quantities.
Research reveals that the plant has been used for medicinal purposes, including curing of cancer, for thousands of years. But is only in the last two decades that the tree has attracted conventional researchers.
In Kenya, the fruit is quite popular, especially among the Asian community and foreigners and is readily available at the major markets in the city. Currently it is out of season.
“Matomoko are some of the best selling fruits in this market. My main customers are Asians, Arabs and even whites,” said Mr Eric Mutua, who has been in the business for the past seven years at the City Market.
At the Ngara open market in Nairobi, only one trader, Mr Simon Ndung’u had a handful of custard apples for sale which he said were leftovers from the previous season.
Mr Ndung’u said that his clients are usually herbalists.
“The herbalists say that if the fruit is crushed and mixed with pomegranate (Punica granatum) and other herbs, it can be administered as a cancer treatment,” said Mr Ndung’u.