Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is an herb used for centuries in traditional medicine. The German Commission E approves chamomile for “inflammation of the skin and the mucous membranes and for various bacterial infections of the skin, oral cavity, gums, and respiratory tract.” It calms the nerves and the stomach.
In this study, the authors explore the anticancer properties of boiling water and alcohol extracts of chamomile. The flowers contain several phenolic compounds, including the flavonoids apigenin, quercetin and patuletin. A water extract of chamomile contains 1.2% apigenin and 0.5% essential oils. (Dietary sources of apigenin are parsley, chamomile, apples, tea and some millets.)
Chamomile extracts were shown by the authors to cause significant reduction of “cell viability” in cancer cell lines but not in normal cells. (Chamomile extracts caused normal human cells to have only slight reduction of cell viability.) Chamomile caused apoptosis in cancer cells and apoptosis is seen with DNA damage. Apigenin from chamomile caused inhibition of cancer cell growth. Apigenin glucosides, derived from apigenin, resulted in inhibition of cancer growth to a lesser degree than did apigenin.
A variety of cancer cell lines were tested. Prostate cancer cells were most responsive to the tumor inhibitory activity of chamomile. Inhibited cancer cell types in rank order from the most to the least responsive were as follows: prostate > breast cancer > fibrosarcoma > cervical adenocarcinoma > colon carcinoma.
CONCLUSION: This is the first published report of the anticancer effects of chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla.) Chamomile water and alcohol extracts inhibit cancer cell growth and promote apoptosis of abnormal cells. The major chemicals found in chamomile were apigenin and its derivatives. Apoptosis was especially seen in three prostate cancer cell lines. More studies are needed on the benefits of chamomile in treating cancer.
NOTE: Apoptosis is a form of natural cell suicide from within the cell. Read about the effect of apigenin from chamomile on leukemia cells.
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