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I found this piece of information repeated on many blogs:

"healthy food house"

Taking in consideration it is one of the deadliest diseases, scientists constantly try to find a cure and finally put and end to cancer. This herb is one of those cures and it can kill up to 98% of cancer cells in just 16 hours.

Namely, according to the researches published in “Life Science”, artemisinin, a “Sweet wormwood” or “Artemisia Annua” derivative, was used in Chinese medicine and it can kill 98% of lung cancer cells in less than 16 hours.

or Truth Theory

According to studies that were published in an issue of Life Sciences, artemesinin – a derivative of the wormwood plant used in Chinese Medicine - can kill 98% of breast cancer cells in less than 16 hours. The herb used alone caused a 28% reduction in breast cancer cells, but when paired with iron, sweet wormwood was able to eradicate cancer almost entirely. What’s more, normal cells were not negatively affected in the experiment by this treatment.

and on Facebook

I already checked on the Wikipedia page about Artemisia annua, and there is a paragraph about cancer with a paper that explains the promising anti-cancer effects of the herb:

We found that holotransferrin-tagged artemisinin, when compared with artemisinin, was very potent and selective in killing cancer cells. Thus, this 'tagged-compound' could potentially be developed into an effective chemotherapeutic agent for cancer treatment.

but I wonder, where is the 98% in 16 hours figure from?

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Note that very hot water (or very cold water) will kill more than 98% of cancer cells in 16 hours. Selectiveness is very important. –  Oddthinking Feb 25 at 13:41
I have a new, cancer-killing miracle drug that does better. I called it "bleach". –  Graham Feb 25 at 20:13
@Graham: Call it Miracle Mineral Solution instead and you have something you can sell. –  Oddthinking Feb 25 at 22:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted


The short answer to your question is yes, artemsia annua can kill cancer cells, it is cytotoxic and can in fact kill most cells, including cancerous cells. I can't find a scientifically supported source for 16 hours, but it may well be the case that this is also true.

All of that information is of only academic use, though, as (as has been pointed out by Oddthinking in the comments) cold water and hot water would achieve a similar result - cells can be killed by extremes of temperature. The claims made come with a very big but:

The very big but

The problem with cancer cells is not, and never has been, killing them. You can kill cancer cells with any cytotoxic or generally dangerous substance, such as alcohol, radiation therapy, a baseball bat etc. (ok, so the baseball bat would be hit and miss, but the point is there). The issue with cancer treatment is killing only or mostly cancer cells, in order to not kill the patient as well - and that's the difficult bit.

For this reason, the problem of aiming cytotoxic treatments at only cancerous cells, Artemsia Annua is not recommended as a cancer treatment:

Some derivatives of Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood, a relative of wormwood, have been shown to be effective in the treatment of malaria. In fact, the World Health Organization approved artemisinin for use against malaria in Africa in 2004. These extracts also show some promise in laboratory studies as cancer treatment drugs. Further studies are required to find out whether the anti-cancer results apply to people. It is important to remember that extracted compounds are not the same as the whole herb, and study results are not likely to show the same effects.

It does have uses in treating other conditions, such as Malaria.

The treatment of cancer in modern medicine is based on the killing or removal of cancerous cells, by chemical or radiation based treatments, by removal of tumours. A large part of the problem that onocologists face with treating cancers is the targetting of treatment towards cancerous cells, and away from non cancerous cells. One relatively new treatment is Monoclonal Antibody Treatment, which uses an approach of antibodies which can (in theory) recognise and envelop cancerous cells.

The long and the short of it

Artemsia Annua could be used as a cytotoxic agent to kill cancerous cells, but this is hindered by actually avoiding killing healthy cells, which is the same problem modern Chemotherapy faces.

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well, the paper does says : "This would enhance the toxicity and selectivity of artemisinin towards cancer cells. In this paper, we describe a method to synthesize such a compound in which transferrin was conjugated with an analog of artemisinin artelinic acid via the N-glycoside chains on the C-domain." –  Duralumin Feb 25 at 15:41
Fair point. Although that is discussion based around the potential for developing a drug based on Artemsia Annua, rather than around the substance itself. The potential may well be there, but buying the raw substance as an alternative medicine is unrealistic as a treatment. –  Owen 'Coves' Jones Feb 25 at 16:06
obligatory xkcd reference –  ratchet freak Feb 25 at 16:49
The source does not explain why artemsia is not effective to treat cancer. Is it because it kills too many healthy cells or is it because it doesn't kill any cells? –  Jim Thio Mar 18 at 12:31
Artemsia is an investigational agent for use in chemotherapy so I have to mark you down on your answer. Nakase I, Lai H, Singh NP, Sasaki T. Anticancer properties of artemisinin derivatives and their targeted delivery by transferrin conjugation. Int J Pharm. 2008 Apr 16;354(1-2):28-33. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2007.09.003‌​. PubMed PMID: 17942255. –  HappySpoon Jul 21 at 2:12

This is apparently all true. Owen Jones is wrong in stating that artemisinin kills just as many healthy cells as cancer cells. Artemisinin reacts with iron to form free radicals that kill cells. Since cancer cells uptake relatively larger amounts of iron than normal cells, they are more susceptible to the toxic effect of artemisinin. There are promising studies with this, as well as a new compound:
artemisinin-tagged holotransferrin.

Here is the link to the study: http://assasmus.unblog.fr/files/2010/05/publicationartemisiadrlai.pdf

Here is a link to some fantastic work where all of the information and studies have been put together to show the full timeline of this discovery and what has unfolded: http://glejak.pl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=991

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Yang Y, Zhang X, Wang X, [..], Yu B. Enhanced delivery of artemisinin and its analogues to cancer cells by their adducts with human serum transferrin. Int J Pharm. 2014 Jun 5;467(1-2):113-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2014.03.044‌​. PubMed PMID: 24661944. –  HappySpoon Jul 21 at 2:11

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