Growing demand for herb as reputed cancer treatment

Growing demand for herb as reputed cancer treatment

Villagers take ang kap nu medicinal saplings home from Wat Ratcharoen Satthatham in Prachin Buri’s Sri Maha Phot district on Tuesday. The temple handed them out following a report the plant can be used to successfully treat cancer. ( Photo: Manit Sanubboon)
Villagers take ang kap nu medicinal saplings home from Wat Ratcharoen Satthatham in Prachin Buri’s Sri Maha Phot district on Tuesday. The temple handed them out following a report the plant can be used to successfully treat cancer. ( Photo: Manit Sanubboon)

The sudden and rising demand for the plant <i>ang kap nu</i>, a species of porcupine flower, as a reputed new treatment for cancer, comes as no surprise to a pharmacist at Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital in Prachin Buri.

Suphaphon Pitiphon, chief of the hospital's pharmaceutical division, said the plant is good for fighting inflammation, but its reputed effectiveness against cancer has yet to be properly studied.

The herb is being aggressively sought by large numbers of people, a demand that has spread rapidly from Sukhothai to Prachin Buri.

Last weekend, people scrambled for the leaves and branches of the plant at Wat Bot in Sukhothai's Sawankhalok district, leaving the temple with only the stumps.

They plant is also grown, along with other medicinal plants on the grounds of Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, which specialises in traditional Thai medicine.

Ms Suphaphon said experts were familiar with the multipurpose treatments of ang kap nu, which range from cures for mouth and foot ulcers and gum disease to use of its flowers as an alternative treatment for migraines and diabetes.

Yet, she said, "studies on its ability to cope with cancer have been rarely done"  even though the herb was previously used by cancer patients.

Her hospital, a centre of herbal medicine in Prachin Buri, uses ang kap nu, together with other herbs, to relieve pain and inflammation.

Its various curing qualities prompt a need for further research and development, Ms Suphaphon said.

Native to India, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa, ang kap nu, or Barleria prinoitis, has distinctive yellow flowers. It is a decorative perenial that Wat Bot abbot Phra Khru Phiphatsutakon also said is highly medicinal.

Although the current craze started in Sukhothai, the plants can be found in many areas of Thailand. People have announced on Facebook pages that they found the plants in Ratchaburi's Pak Tho district.

Wat Ratcharoen Satthatham in Prachin Buri's Sri Maha Phot district is also on the list. Many people, some from Sa Kaeo, braved the rain on Tuesday and flocked to the temple, where ang kap nu saplings were handed out for planting and cultivation at their homes.

It is not known if the herb can really cure cancer, but relatives of patients, especially those in the last stages and desperate for new treatments, said they wanted to give it a try.

Both relatives and patients "know well" that ang kap nu is full of benefits, but "know nothing" about its effect on cancer, according to one relative, who was aware the claim it is effective against cancer is not backed by scientific research.

However, "it's not right to just sit there and watch my loved one die", he said.

He urged experts to look into a report that at least 13 cancer patients had recovered after taking ang kap nu.  

Phiphop Khaichaeng, a 60-year-old at Ban Wat Bot School in Sawankhalok district who suffered lung cancer, said he boiled ang kap nu leaves and stems in water, adn drank it regularly as a tea. To his surprise, his chest pains and breathing difficulties were greatly relieved in one month.

When he had a lung X-ray three months later, the black spots had started to disappear, he said.

Similar stories were related by lymphoma and breast cancer patients, and others who suffered hepatitis B.

Prakhong Buachuen, 60, said she took both anti-viral drugs and boiled ang kap nu water before having her liver checked by a doctor. She quoted him as saying: "Yai [grandma] is the first person who quickly recovered after taking anti-viral drugs."

But, despite the many praises, the Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine warns that consuming ang kap nu continuously for a long time can have side effects, especially on patients' kidneys.

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