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Old time remedy that comes from a plant might help treat bladder cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Ipecac syrup

An old remedy known as ipecac that was probably in your grandmother's medicine cupboard could help treat bladder cancer. Loyola University researchers have discovered an ingredient in the syrup kills bladder cancer cells without harming good cells.

Many people are at risk for bladder cancer from smoking, environmental chemicals and repeated bladder infection.

Low vitamin D levels has also been linked to cancer of the bladder.

Ipecac, used years ago to induce vomiting and empty the stomach of poisons, has been found to have properties that could boost bladder cancer treatment, when combined with standard chemotherapy.

What's so interesting is that like so many other medications that help humans, is that the ingredient in ipecac syrup comes from a flowering plant known as Psychotria ipecacuanha.

Extracts of the plant are also used in homeopathic remedies for nausea. The bark of the plant, which is native to Brazil, has been referred to as the "vomiting root" and also as ipecac root.

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The root of the plant was used to treat the amoebic form of dysentery in the 18th Century, but was replaced by safer medications that are less toxic to the body.

Ipecac syrup was also abused and used as a way to purge by individuals with disordered eating. Perhaps the most widely touted misuse of ipecac came from reports that singer Karen Carpenter, battling anorexia nervosa, used the drug to induce vomiting to control her weight.

Kimberly Foreman, PhD; Gopal Gupta, MD; and colleagues published their finding online ahead of print in The Journal of Urology, showing for the first time that emetine dihydrochloride, the active ingredient in the old time remedy:

  • Inhibits the proliferation of bladder cancer cell lines.
  • Works in concordance with the chemotherapy drug cisplatin to slow bladder cancer growth better than either drug does alone.
  • Has no effect on normal cells, making ipecac a safe addition to chemotherapy drugs

For their study, the Loyola researchers exposed normal cells and bladder cancer cells to emetine alone or to emetine plus cisplatin, which is the standard chemotherapy treatment for the disease.

“There is an urgent need to develop new drug combinations,” Dr. Gupta said in a press release. “Our study demonstrates that combining emetine with cisplatin is potentially beneficial and merits further study in clinical trials."

The authors say earlier studies from 1969 an 1970 showed the old poisoning remedy ipecac could help treat bladder cancer. Recent studies show the ingredient in the flower plant could also kills leukemia cells.

"Ipecacuanha: the South American vomiting root"

Image credit: Wikimedia commons