Artemisinin and Artesunate

Also known by these names

  • Annual wormwood
  • Artemisinin (derivative used in cancer)
  • Qing Hao
  • Qinghaosu
  • Sweet Annie
  • Sweet sagewort
  • Sweet wormwood
  • Semi-synthetic drug derivatives:
    • Artesunate
    • Artemether

Key Points

  • The Artemisia annua plant contains chemical compounds effective against malaria that are also considered to have anticancer activity.
  • Artemisia annua is of interest to BCCT because of evidence from lab and animal studies suggesting its anticancer properties.
  • Case studies and preliminary clinical trials have shown anticancer effects in human patients.
  • Safety and dosing in cancer are not established.
  • In doses used for malaria, it is generally well tolerated, but with some notable side effects, interactions, cautions and contraindications. These include toxicity to fetuses and liver toxicity. Caution and medical supervision are advised.

The Artemisia annua plant contains chemical compounds effective against malaria and also considered to have anticancer activity. Artemisinin is a natural derivative of Artemisia annua, and artesunate is a prescription medication derived from Artemisia annua.

Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Artemisinin's anticancer activity is believed to occur when it comes in contact with iron. Cancer cells concentrate iron for use in cellular division (the malaria parasite also collects high concentrations of iron). Artemisinin's contact with iron triggers the release of free radicals between cells that destroy cancer cells. Because of this “ferroptosis” effect, iron is often administered several hours before artemisinin to enhance targeting of the cancer cells while sparing normal cells.

Clinical Evidence

Case studies and preliminary clinical trials have shown anticancer effects in human patients:

Artemisinin

 

Artesunate

 

Lab and Animal Evidence

Read more

Cautions

At doses used to treat malaria, Artemisia-derived drugs are generally safe and well tolerated, but no phase I clinical trials have tested the safety of higher doses that are likely required for treating cancer. Doses used in animal studies have been much higher than those used in anti-malaria treatment.

Read more

Access

Plant leaves and powdered and liquid extracts are available for purchase in the US. Artemisinin, a natural derivative of Artemisia annua, is available for purchase as a supplement.

Artesunate, the synthetic drug derived from the Artemisia plant, is available by prescription in the US only for patients who have a documented case of severe malaria. It is used widely in European cancer clinics providing complementary therapies.

Dosing

Exact dosage of the herb Artemisia annua in cancer has not been determined in clinical trials. Concentrations of the active ingredients vary among products.31 See Quality and Sources of Herbs, Supplements and Other Natural Products for general information.

Integrative cancer care plans, protocols and references listed below suggest doses. For a lengthy discussion of dosages of the various plant and supplement derivatives of Artemisia annua, artemisinin and artesunate, see these sources:

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

A number of European complementary and alternative medicine cancer clinics use this natural product, and Chinese researchers consider it a very promising anticancer therapy.

Commentary

In her 2010 book, naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, advises avoiding using artemisinin during radiation therapy and for an additional 30 days after therapy ends.37

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Keith Block, MD, advises in his 2009 book: “Until we have more research, I advise not taking this herbal while you are undergoing conventional treatment.”38

Non-cancer Uses of Artemisinin

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Infections
  • Inflammation
  • Malaria and other protozoal infections including leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and African sleeping sickness

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; last update June 15, 2019. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent research of Artemisia annua. This summary draws from these sources and other as cited:

View All References

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