Research has shown that pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP) has antitumor effects in laboratory studies using mice. Other common names for pokeweed are common pokeweed, poke root, poke salad (or poke sallet), poke berry, poke, Virginia poke, inkberry, cancer root, American nightshade, and pigeon berry. Its scientific name is Phytolacca americana. Pokeweed is now grown throughout the world but is native to North America. It is a perennial herb with the ability to grow to over 10 feet tall each summer. Herbal remedies use the berries and dried roots.
Pokeweed’s health benefits are believed to combat a number of health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, tonsillitis, mumps, swollen glands, chronic excess mucus, bronchitis, mastitis, and constipation. Additionally, it is believed that this herb is effective in treating fungal infections, joint inflammation, hemorrhoids, breast abscesses, ulcers, and bad breath. Herbalists also believe that a poultice made from pokeweed is an effective aid in relieving itching, inflammation, and skin diseases. Native Americans used pokeweed as a heart stimulant and to treat cancer, rheumatism, itching, and syphilis and as a laxative and inducer of vomiting.
Pokeweed is available as a liquid extract, tincture, powder, and poultice. The PAP is hard to extract from pokeweed, which resulted in researchers developing a method to create PAP in laboratories. The laboratory version is purer and less toxic than PAP extracted from the plant. Animal research has shown that PAP strengthens the immune system and demonstrates some anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown that combining PAP with TP-3, an immunotherapy drug, has the potential to treat advanced osteosarcomas and some soft tissue sarcomas.
Laboratory studies indicate that PAP may be a useful treatment for cancer cells dependent on hormones for their growth, such as cells from prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer. In addition, PAP is being evaluated as an antiviral treatment for ailments such as herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Studies indicate that the PAP protects cells against HIV, and there is further analysis to determine if it can aid in the prevention of HIV contraction. Clinical trials in humans have yet to occur.
The entire pokeweed plant is poisonous, especially the roots. Thoroughly cooking pokeweed does reduce its toxicity, though poisoning still may occur. Symptoms of pokeweed poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, blurred vision, confusion, dermatitis, dizziness, and weakness. Convulsions, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, heart block (a blockage of the electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to contract), and death may occur. Animals are also susceptible to pokeweed poisoning. Furthermore, the plant extract may interfere with other medications.
Nevertheless, further study of this plant may well reveal ways this plant can be effectively used as a treatment for lethal cancers such as mesothelioma. Furthermore, its potential value in combination with other immunotherapy drugs adds to its potential value, though this needs further study. Currently mesothelioma cancer enjoys few successful treatments, and increasingly, patients are reacting to this reality by adopting alternative treatments such as pokeweed. However, it remains essential that individuals consult a licensed medical professional before beginning any treatment regimen, especially if it involves the use of clinically unproven products.