Boonma Meekana has lung cancer. After undergoing 17 rounds of chemotherapy treatment his children were told their father would not live more than three days.
"My condition got much worse. I became so weak physically I could do nothing but lie in bed all the time," recalled Boonma.
A native of Chiang Mai, Boonma was diagnosed with cancer in the final stage after malignant tumours 7cm in diameter were detected in both lungs. Initially the man, in his 60s, was prescribed 12 doses of chemotherapy administered over a one-month period which resulted in extreme fatigue and weight loss, and that was followed by another five sessions which left him completely bedridden.
"People in my neighbourhood came visiting and started preparing my funeral," Boonma said.
Seeing no hope in conventional medicine, Boonma's doctor suggested he take mangosteen extract tablets.
Miraculously, after 10 days he started to regain his appetite and subsequently some weight, and his state of health gradually improved.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Boonma is doing pretty well.
According to the head of Thai Mangosteen Research and Development Centre, Prof Pichaet Wiriyachitra, mangosteen is more than just a tasty fruit. Recently, a team of Thai researchers including himself discovered significant medicinal benefits of mangosteen extract and it's been proven it can help fight cancer.
"After many years of study, the researchers discovered for the first time that natural mangosteen extract can not only fight cancer but also offer its patients a better quality of life," said Dr Pichaet.
Studies by Thai scientists date back to 1978 when a team of researchers from the Prince of Songkhla and Chiang Mai universities extracted a substance from mangosteen peel called GM1. GM1 proved highly effective in killing bacteria and three times more effective in preventing inflammation than aspirin.
"We simply turned mangosteen peel _ good only as trash at the time _ into medicine," noted Dr Pichaet.
It was the onset of a long journey that would take Thai scientists almost 35 years to discover the anti-cancer properties of mangosteen, not just the skin which contains high levels of tannin, but the whole fruit. It was a significant breakthrough in terms of the effectiveness of mangosteen as a source of medicine.
Explaining the findings, Prof Watchara Kasinrerk of Chiang Mai University began with a primer on how the body's immune system works.
"We all are surrounded by germs including bacteria, virus, parasites and fungi. All these germs as well as chemical substances are responsible for infectious diseases," he said.
"But fortunately, human beings have an immune system that protects them from those germs and helps destroy cancer cells that appear every day inside our body. Simply put, we have different types of white blood cells that work in collaboration as part of the body's immune system, enabling us to stay healthy and lead normal life."
T-helper cells, Dr Watchara elaborated, are a type of cell known as the "centre" of the immune system. They assist other cells by recognising germs and other toxic substances. T-helper cells will transform themselves into several different types of cells called Th1, Th2 and Th17 in order to fight their respective enemies.
After germs or toxic substances are completely eradicated, T-helper cells will turn themselves into regulatory T cells or T-reg whose function is to slow down the germ-fighting process back to normal or pre-infection level.
"In normal circumstances, the body is usually able to maintain the right balance of T-helper cells and T-reg," added Dr Watchara.
"If T-helper cells work too hard and fight germs nonstop, it will cause chronic inflammation or allergy. On the contrary, the overworking of T-reg is likely to bring about immune deficiency and the body will get frequently infected. In short, any imbalance in immune system is detrimental to health."
Dr Watchara's study revealed that mangosteen extract has the ability to boost the production of Th17, which is a proven cancer inhibitor and rids the body of cancerous cells.
"We collected white blood cell samples from 12 people _ six of them were given mangosteen extract in form of capsules while the other six were given placebo.
"The study found that mangosteen extract stimulated the production of Th17 and T-reg which is really helpful when it comes to the prevention and treatment of diseases especially cancer," noted Dr Watchara. As such, mangosteen could provide cancer patients with better quality of life.
Suthep Waenthong is another cancer patient who owes his health to mangosteen extract. At 64, Suthep was diagnosed with an advanced stage of prostate cancer. His symptoms were extreme fatigue, frequent urination, joint pain and loss of appetite, followed by 20kg weight loss. One day he developed terrible weakness in both legs and was taken to hospital.
"I was still able to walk on my own when I checked into the hospital that morning. But by evening I was totally bedridden," recounted Suthep. "The doctor said my cancer was already advanced beyond fourth stage. The malignancy had spread from prostate to chest, destroyed the spine and suppressed the nerves. The lower part of my body from the waist down became paralysed."
Suthep was prescribed 10 sessions of radiation therapy, at the end of which there was no sign of improvement.
Feeling hopeless, the patient started taking mangosteen extract as recommended by an acquaintance of his. Two weeks later, he was able to move some of his toes.
"This was like a miracle," said Suthep. "My health got better and better. I can now move my legs. So far I feel my overall physical condition has improved by 70%. I feel healthy, except that I still cannot walk properly.
"My quality of life is much better. From a man dependent on others all the time, now I can go to the toilet by myself and be responsible for my daily activities, at least to some extent."
Suthep and Boonma are among many people whose quality of life got better thanks to the medicinal properties of mangosteen. And according to the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Assoc Prof Niwes Nantachit, improving the quality of life is the most important aspect when it comes to cancer patients.
"Patients in the final stage of cancer mostly feel discouraged and depressed, especially when their condition is not getting any better despite all the treatment they've been taking," said Dr Niwes.
"Even a small thing that promises them hope can change the way they feel towards life. And though it cannot do much good to their health, this little hope can at least enable them to eat again. And if they feel emotionally strong, things can also get better. So I think mangosteen extract is like this little promise for patients in the final stage of cancer. It is their light at the end of the tunnel."
Enjoy a purple patch
Dubbed the Queen of Fruits, mangosteen imparts medicinal benefits not just when eaten fresh. Almost all parts of the fruit can be used as a cure for several ailments.
Here is some useful information regarding the medicinal properties of the purple fruit.
Eaten fresh, mangosteen can help with the body's digestive system.
Women with erratic menstrual cycles should boil the root of mangosteen in water, distil and drink the filtrate. It is said to correct erratic cycles.
Sundried mangosteen skin can be a cure for rash and skin infection. Due to such skin-related benefits, mangosteen soap has long become popular among health-conscious consumers.
Tannin extracted from mangosteen, used in appropriate quantity, can slow down the deterioration of cells and help get rid of chemical substances harmful to the body.
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan