In ancient times, in China, Artemisia annua, also commonly known as Sweet Annie, was taken as an infusion to fight fever, intestinal parasites, poor digestion and especially malaria, a disease that we still fight nowadays with artemisinin, the active ingredient extracted from its leaves.
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Artemisia Annua (family of the Asteraceae) is a plant known in China for more than 2,000 years under the name of qing-hao. There are numerous written testimonies dating back to the early years AD on its use by the Chinese as an antipyretic (to lower fever) and as a digestive herb. Later, after government research, Chinese people started using it as anti-malarial, antibacterial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antiparasitic, antiviral, and antitumor.
Artemisia Annua should not be confused with wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium), both have a very personal and unique scent.
Starting from 1995, the University of Washington's Department of Bioengineering begun studying the application of this ancient Chinese cure for cancer and the results have been stunning. In fact, they discovered that in vitro it destroys the cancer cells in a few hours and they have also treated the cancer of a dog's bones in just 5 days.
In the following years the action of Artemisia Annua has been successfully studied on many tumor cell lines like prostate, ovary, colon, leukemia, melanoma, pancreas and in xenotransplantation animal models, demonstrating in this case a reduction in volume and diffusion. Currently, as of 10 December 2015, there are 452 studies demonstrating the therapeutic efficacy of Artemisia Annua, as you can see from the University of Washington database.
Artemisin is so effective because it selectively affects cancer cells without damaging normal cells, unlike chemotherapy. In fact, artemisin affects cells containing excessive amounts of iron, freeing intracellular free radicals that destroy cells, and cancer cells contain much more iron than average.
Iron is deposited in tumor cells with special receptors that help in cell division. Normal cells also have these receptors, but the tumor cells have them in large quantities and therefore can be a target combination of iron and Artemisinin, causing cell growth to stop and apoptosis in many tumor cell lines.