Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal: A potential therapeutic adjuvant in cancer

J Ethnopharmacol. 2020 Jun 12;255:112759. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.112759. Epub 2020 Mar 12.

Abstract

Ethnopharmacological relevance: Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal (WS) is one of the moststudied Rasayana botanicals used in Ayurveda practice for its immunomodulatory, anti-aging, adaptogenic, and rejuvenating effects. The botanical is being used for various clinical indications, including cancer. Several studies exploring molecular mechanisms of WS suggest its possible role in improving clinical outcomes in cancer management. Therefore, research on WS may offer new insights in rational development of therapeutic adjuvants for cancer.

Aim of this review: The review aims at providing a detailed analysis of in silico, in vitro, in vivo, and clinical studies related to WS and cancer. It suggests possible role of WS in regulating molecular mechanisms associated with carcinogenesis. The review discusses potential of WS in cancer management in terms of cancer prevention, anti-cancer activity, and enhancing efficacy of cancer therapeutics.

Material and methods: The present narrative review offers a critical analysis of published literature on WS studies in cancer. The reported studies were analysed in the context of pathophysiology of cancer, commonly referred as 'cancer hallmarks'. The review attempts to bridge Ayurveda knowledge with biological insights into molecular mechanisms of cancer.

Results: Critical analysisof the published literature suggests an anti-cancer potential of WS with a key role in cancer prevention. The possible mechanisms for these effects are associated with the modulation of apoptotic, proliferative, and metastatic markers in cancer. WS can attenuate inflammatory responses and enzymes involved in invasion and metastatic progression of cancer.The properties of WS are likely to be mediated through withanolides, which may activate tumor suppressor proteins to restrict proliferation of cancer cells. Withanolides also regulate the genomic instability, and energy metabolism of cancer cells. The reported studies indicate the need for deeper understanding of molecular mechanisms of WS in inhibiting angiogenesis and promoting immunosurveillance. Additionally, WS can augment efficacy and safety of cancer therapeutics.

Conclusion: The experimentally-supported evidence of immunomodulatory, anti-cancer, adaptogenic, and regenerative attributes of WS suggest its therapeutic adjuvant potential in cancer management. The adjuvant properties of withanolides can modulate multidrug resistance and reverse chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression. These mechanisms need to be further explored in systematically designed translational and clinical studies that will pave the way for integration of WS as a therapeutic adjuvant in cancer management.

Keywords: Ashwagandha; Cancer; Cancer hallmarks; Rasayana; Therapeutic adjuvant; Withanolides.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Withania* / chemistry

Substances

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Plant Extracts