COMMENTARY

Possible Role of Moringa oleifera Lam. Root in Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

Chinmoy K. Bose, MD, PhD

Disclosures

February 06, 2007

Relevant Medicinal Value

With regard to the use of the moringa plant in cancer therapy, 4-(4'-O-acetyl-alpha-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate and the related compound niazimicin have been shown to be potent inhibitors of phorbol ester in lymphoblastoid cells. In a mouse study, niazimicin inhibited tumor production. Niaziminin and beta-sitosterol-3-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside have also been shown to be associated with antitumor activity.[10,12] Bharali and colleagues[13] even showed chemopreventive potential of Moringa oleifera drumstick extract against chemical carcinogens via the hepatic pathway.

However, there is currently more research on its antitumor property than its sex hormone-related property.

Figure 1.

Structures of selected phytochemicals from Moringa oleifera. 4-(4'-O-acetyl-α-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [A], 4-(-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [B], and niazimicin [C].

Figure 1.

Structures of selected phytochemicals from Moringa oleifera. 4-(4'-O-acetyl-α-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [A], 4-(-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [B], and niazimicin [C].

Figure 1.

Structures of selected phytochemicals from Moringa oleifera. 4-(4'-O-acetyl-α-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [A], 4-(-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate [B], and niazimicin [C].

Along with its antitumor, cancer prevention, and abortifacient properties, benzyl isothiocyanate and the other aforementioned compounds have numerous other properties, such as anti-inflammatory, estrogenic, antiprogestational, hypoglycemic, antiulcer, antihyperthyroidism, hypocholesterolemic, hypotensive, antimicrobial, purgative, and antispasmodic effects.

With regard to the female reproductive system, Moringa oleifera root is shown to have unique estrogenic, antiestrogenic, progestational, and antiprogestational activities.[14] Root-bark yields 2 alkaloids: moringine and moringinine. Moringinine acts as a cardiac stimulant, produces a rise in blood pressure, acts on sympathetic nerve endings as well as smooth muscles throughout the body, and depresses the sympathetic motor fibers of vessels in large doses only. M oleifera confers significant radiation protection as well.

The present author is most interested in the hormonal properties of aqueous extract of Moringa oleifera Lam. root, which may or may not be attributable to benzyl isothiocyanate. Many years ago, this particular property of this miracle tree was shown to cause biochemical and physiologic alterations in the female reproductive organs of cyclic rats.[15] Initially, its administration stimulated the uterine structures, caused metaplastic changes in the cervical epithelium, and provoked considerable cornification in the vaginal epithelium. After more days of treatment, significant inhibition in the general histoarchitecture was observed. Biochemical observations and histologic findings have been correlated with the anti-implantation action of the aqueous extract in light of its hormonal properties. Obviously, these and other experiments can easily explain its use as an abortifacient.[16] However, the active mechanism that produces such effects is still not known, and further study on its female sex hormonal properties is required.

It appears to be acting on some receptor, most likely the follicle-stimulating hormone receptor (FSHR), because it initially increases estrogenic action when the uterus is enlarged. Then, it may inactivate this receptor locally or with the help of a central mechanism through nerve growth factor (NGF)-mediated pathways.[17] Of interest, the central inhibitory effect of Moringa oleifera root extract and a possible role of neurotransmitters have also been proposed. Dopamine and norepinephrine levels were studied in Holtzman strain adult albino rats. The results revealed that pretreatment with Moringa oleifera inhibited penicillin-induced seizure and markedly reduced locomotor activity. Chronic treatment with Moringa oleifera significantly increased the 5-HT and decreased the dopamine level in the cerebral cortex, midbrain, caudate nucleus, and cerebellum. The norepinephrine level was significantly decreased in the cerebral cortex.[18,19] As dopamine and norepinephrine influence NGF and FSHR through central mechanisms,[17] this result may support and corroborate their possible role in epithelial ovarian cancer. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) might also be involved via NGF.[20] However, no cell line experiments of the effects of Moringa oleifera on ovarian cancer cells have been reported, and this work is urgently warranted.

Hormonal action may be mediated through the estrogen or progesterone receptor as well. Moringa oleifera inhibits maintenance and growth of reproductive organs. In fact, in rural and tribal areas of the West Bengal province in India, the root of this plant is taken by women, especially prostitutes, as permanent contraception, and it has been shown to totally inactivate or suppress the reproductive system.

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