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How is the pawpaw plant used to treat cancer?

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The major compounds of the pawpaw plant, known as acetogenins, prevent cells from producing adenosine triphosphate, which is inherently toxic to cells, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The extract has been shown to kill cancer cells in test tubes that were resistant to commonly used chemotherapy drugs such as Adriamycin, but there is no proof that it works with humans.

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Full Answer

Acetogenins inhibit Complex I of the electron transport chain and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-oxidase, a protein in the plasma membrane. The decrease in regenerable nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide results in a drop of adenosine triphosphate levels, leading to cell death by apoptosis.

Pawpaw extract produced mixed results against cancer cells in mice. The extract has so far shown to be more effective against cancer cells than regular cells. The plant is commonly used in anti-lice treatment and anti-parasitic treatment. Studies have not yet evaluated pawpaw’s ability to kill parasites, but there is laboratory-based evidence that attributes the ability to other closely related plants.

Side effects of the plant include allergic reactions, nerve toxicity and vomiting. The plant is native to North America and has edible bean-shaped fruits. North American pawpaw should not be confused with Brazilian pawpaw or with papaya, which both have a similar texture and appearance.

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