The cassava plant, also known as the manioc or tapioca plant, may be a potential cancer preventative and treatment. Its scientific name is Manihot esculenta Crantz. The cassava plant is indigenous in Africa, Asia, and South America. The tubers of the plant are edible, and may be boiled, fried, eaten raw, or prepared as tapioca pudding. Various parts of the plant ranging from the entire plant to just the roots or leaves are often used in herbal remedies.
Folk medicine and herbalists have used the cassava plant to treat snakebites, boils, diarrhea, flu, hernias, inflammation, conjunctivitis, sores, and several other health problems including cancer. Herbalists apply the cassava by making a poultice from the tubers and applying it directly to the skin. Another traditional application involves making a wash from the leaves, roots, and flour (obtained from the plant) to soak the body. Some health food stores carry cassava leaves in capsule or powder form. There is currently no scientific evidence that suggest cassava is a viable method to treat cancer or other health ailments; however, some ongoing studies are investigating possible medicinal uses.
A scientific proposal to investigate the use of cassava as gene therapy has just started to be investigated by the scientific community. To ward off hungry animals, the cassava plant produces a poisonous substance when eaten. Researchers hope to extract the gene for linamarase from the cassava plant and inject in directly into cancer cells. The patient would then have linamarin introduced into the body, which cause the cells with linamarase to convert the linamarin directly around the cells to cyanide. This would specifically target the cancer cells with cyanide and hopefully eradicate those cells while the healthy cells remain unharmed.
Cassava can be dangerous and result in cyanide poisoning if not prepared properly. Signs of cyanide poisoning include headache, dizziness, agitation, confusion, coma, and convulsions. People in developing countries have died from improperly prepared cassava. Chronic poisoning can occur from cassava, especially in regions where it is a main food staple. The effects of chronic poisoning are paralysis of the legs, trouble walking, and poor vision and hearing. Regions where cassava is a main food staple are also susceptible to malnutrition due to its low protein content.