The hedge apple, more commonly known outside the Midwest of the United States as bois d'arc (pronounced bo-dark), or by its botanical name Maclura pomifera, is one of many natural products touted as a potential cure for cancer.
There actually are reasons to take a second look at hedge apples for treating cancer. There have been over 220 studies of chemicals found in hedge apple seeds. There have been at least 22 studies of using the fruit or its seeds to treat cancer. A study in China found that hedge apple seed oil, in laboratory conditions, could stop the regeneration of stem cells that perpetuate glioma, a particularly deadly form of brain cancer. An extract from the fruit of a closely related plant, also in the mulberry family, has been found to stop the proliferation of leukemia cells, also under laboratory conditions. A purified chemical known as a lectin, extracted from hedge apples, has been found to lock onto receptor sites in ovarian cysts, raising the question of whether hedge apples might not hold a treatment for ovarian cancer.
A tumor in a test tube presents far fewer variables than a tumor in a living human being. A chemical that can be added to a Petri dish will not necessarily survive a trip through the digestive tract or the bloodstream. The liver can either activate or deactivate thousands of chemicals, and how "busy" liver enzymes are with other activities, dealing chemicals from food or medication or toxins, affects how much the liver changes a plant chemical as it passes through. (Anything taken by mouth enters the bloodstream through the hepatic portal vein, leading to the liver.) Neither is it known if the liver would use enzymes activating chemicals in hedge apple that then could not be used for fighting other toxins, or whether there are potentially deadly interactions of hedge apple and common medications, or whether there substances in the fruit that interfere with vitamins or food enzymes.
Many Native American tribes, especially in Texas, used this fruit for treating tumors on the basis of a principle that European medicine came to call "like treats like." The hedge apple looks something like a tumor, so maybe eating it would have some effect on a tumor. Cancerous tumors irritate tissues around them. The milky sap on a hedge apple irritates the skin, so maybe it acts like a tumor. Hedge apples have many thorns, and can be grown into fences. Cancer breaks out in many directions and blocks the flow of blood and nutrients, so maybe if your digestive tract could break down a hedge apple it could break down cancer.
This kind of reasoning is fallacious, but it is also very common. People naturally look for easy solutions to hard problems. Unfortunately, hedge apple isn't one of them.
There are no fruits or berries that cure cancer
Guayabano, graviola, paw paw, acerola, acai berry, pomegranate, goji berries, and cloudberries contain potent antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and flavor. These are perfectly useful things, but they do not cure breast cancer, brain cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, bone cancer, or any other kind of cancer. Neither does marijuana.
Even medical programs that dedicated to using natural therapies, like the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona in the United States, never restrict cancer patients to just one kind of treatment. Instead, they pursue every treatment that has been shown, in some setting, to work, without interfering with others. A treatment doesn't work just because it is "natural." Even proven natural treatments have to be used at the right time and in the right dose. It would be nice if we could say the cure for cancer grows on a tree, and "they" (the pharmaceutical industry) wouldn't mind, because there would just be some other disease to treat, but there is no plant cure for cancer yet.
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