Since time immemorial, spices and medicinal plants have played an essential role in the management of various diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Cancer has been most widely recognized as a reason for human mortality. There is a steep rise in the advanced traditional treatment methods used for the treatment of cancer all over the globe. Even then, the results are not satisfactory on various levels. Hence to increase the efficiency of treatments and to improve the quality of life for the cancer patients some of the ayurvedic ingredients can come handy. To our advantage there are few ayurvedic ingredients which are very well known to Indian households. These ingredients have certain components present in them which play a role in curbing the cancerous cell growth by attacking various cell cycle processes or by targeting any other processes in our body. One such common household ingredient is Cardamom. Let us find out how this small sized green podded ingredient aid in fighting cancer.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), one of the world’s oldest spices belongs to Zingiberaceae family and is widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and is also known for its many medicinal properties and is also termed as “Queen of Spices”. In recent years, a huge interest in the abundant health-promoting properties of cardamom has led to numerous pharmacological studies as well as the identification and quantification of various classes of phytochemicals. Additionally, phytochemicals have gained increased interest among several investigators due to their antioxidant activity, cholesterol-lowering properties, and other potential health benefits including chemoprevention of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Experimental evidence and phytochemical compositions suggest that cardamom can have potential health benefits against many types of cancer.
In vitro studies have revealed that essential oil of cardamom has anti-carcinogenic effects as it inhibits the damage to adult DNA by aflatoxin B1 in a microsomal enzyme intermediated reaction. This could be attributed to bio-active components in an essential oil that has anti-cancer functions. Phytochemical components present in cardamom oil such as limonene and 1, 8-cineole has shown a preventive effect against cancer progression as well.
A basic feature in the impacts of cardamom in antagonizing diverse chemical-induced carcinogenesis is the activation of the detoxification enzymes. The detoxifying enzyme system plays a critical role in determining the final destiny of carcinogens/pro-carcinogens and its consequent effect on carcinogenesis which is mediated by the transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2) binding to the antioxidant response element (ARE)/electrophilic response element (EpRE) located in the promoter region of related genes is known to regulate different detoxifying enzymes to trigger the expression of antioxidant and cell-protective genes. Cardamom ingestion has been shown to reduce the nuclear expression of Nrf2 in the mouse skin of DMBA treated mice; this suggests that the cardamom treatment might trigger activation of Nrf2 despite the deleterious effects of DMBA, which can be postulated for human population as well to maintain cellular homeostasis during oxidative stress.
It has been shown that cardamom extract or geraniol as a component of cardamom oil was highly effective in preventing diethylnitrosamine (DENA)-induced hepatocellular carcinoma through blocking oxidative stress, decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α and IL-1β and NF-κB, and decreasing ornithine decarboxylase (ODC). The synergistic influence of the phytomolecules in the extract may be attributed to the potential of chemoprevention. Many anti-carcinogenic compounds that could serve as potential NF-kB inhibitors are now being developed for anti-cancer therapy. There was observation of delayed skin tumorigenesis, reduced incidence, and the number of skin papilloma and size in DMBA-treated samples with ingestion of cardamom through activation of antioxidant enzymes, detoxification enzymes, and decreased lipid peroxidation. Consistent with the results in the skin cancer model, cancer chemo-preventive potential of an aqueous suspension of cardamom against B(a)P induced fore stomach papilloma genesis has been shown in literature to inhibit fore stomach carcinogenesis at peri-initiation stages of carcinogenesis significantly. The modulatory effect of cardamom on phase II detoxifying enzymes, namely GST (Glutathione S-transferase), activation of antioxidant enzymes, enhancement of GSH (Glutathione) levels, and inhibition of lipid peroxidation levels could be attributes to this chemo-preventive potential of Cardamom against fore stomach papilloma genesis.
Regulation of colorectal cancer via chemo-preventative activity of cardamom has also been reported. Azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis was inhibited by cardamom dietary feeding and was also found to prevent aberrant crypt foci formation by its anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and proapoptotic activity and down-regulating levels of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). This suggests a combined action of different components in cardamom during inhibition of chemically induced colon carcinogenesis.
Several reports have demonstrated that most of the components of cardamom act as antioxidants such as limonene, cineole, linalool, pinene, and borneol. It has been demonstrated that D-Limonene, one of the bio-active ingredients in cardamom has chemo-preventive action against skin, stomach, colon, liver, mammary and lung cancers in rodents expressing similar characteristics as human cell lines by down-regulating expression of Bcl-2 and mutant p53, Limonene induces apoptosis in human leukemia cells in vitro. Cineole is known to induces apoptosis in human leukemia cells in vitro with morphological changes with the appearance of apoptotic bodies.
It has been reported that there is a significant increase in the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells in cardamom extracts, suggesting their possible anticancer property. Another paper reported that, cardamom oil has significantly increased the level of lymphocytes, CD4 +, and CD8 + in a dose-dependent manner. Significant increase in, in vitro proliferation of cell-mediated lymphocytes has been reported due to an active component – Eugenol present in cardamom. Cardamom seed oil concentration of 500 μg / mg results in the maximum inhibition of Michigan Cancer Foundation (MCF-7) cells (Human cell line), an Estrogen Receptor (ER)-positive cell line that increases abnormal monolayers cell growth. Presence of Cardamom phytochemicals such as IC3 (indole-3- carbinol) and DIM diindolylmethane) in cardamom promotes increased development of various white blood cells, including natural killer cells and also inhibit hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells. Cardamom chemo-preventive activity (20 mg/ml) results in a decreased activity of cancer in the cell lines MCF and HEP-G2. Phytochemicals such as have Reports have also been shown that phytochemicals such as limonene and 1,8- cineole protect cells against cancer progression and to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2 and cytochrome P450 activities along with down-regulation of many signal transduction molecules.
Studies have proven that cardamom seeds can decrease the CYP content and significantly increase the GST activity and sulfhydryl levels in liver in an in-vivo study. These facts are suggestive about the fact that cardamom oil affects the enzymes associated with xenobiotic metabolism and hence may have benefits as a deterrent to cancer and its anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative and proapoptotic activities makes it to be beneficial in terms of colon carcinogenesis by regulating azoxymethane.
Last but not the least, cardamom is also known to have an impact on cancer by virtue of its immunocompetence property wherein, it is known to enhance splenocyte proliferation activity and regulate the factors and activities of cytotoxicity on natural killer cells in terms of YC – 1 lymphoma cells. Collectively, all these scientific evidence gives the overall comprehension stating that the vital components present in cardamom is always in the direction of advantage in order to improve the quality of life when included in our natural diet and thus would help for patients who are undergoing treatment as well as in normal individuals wherein it prevents/controls the recurrence or factors responsible for the growth of sarcoma/cancer.