Sophora flavescens has shown anticancer effects in lab studies, but has not been studied for cancer prevention or treatment in humans.
Sophora flavescens or Ku Shen, which in Chinese means “bitter root,” is an herb used in Traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of symptoms, with purported effects on the heart, liver, intestinal tract, and skin. Lab and animal studies have shown that some compounds can kill cancer cells and help fight certain viruses. However, human data are lacking.
Sophora flavescens may act like an estrogen in the body. Patients with hormone-sensitive cancer should avoid this product.
Lab studies show anticancer activities through different mechanisms. Despite positive lab results, this use has not been proven by clinical trials.
This claim is not supported by research.
Limited evidence suggests that Sophora flavescens may be a useful treatment for hepatitis B and coxsackie B viruses, but more data are necessary to support this use.
A single non-randomized trial supports this use, but more data are needed.
Skin disorders Sophora flavescens is used to treat skin disorder in Traditional Medicine. But this use has not been proven in clinical trials.
Do Not Take If
You are taking paclitaxel: In animal studies, Sophora flavescens flavonoids increased the effects of Taxol against certain tumors.
You are taking ampicillin/gentamicin: In the lab, one of the compounds in Sophora flavescens increased the activity of these antibiotics against oral bacteria.
You have a hormone-sensitive cancer:Sophora flavescens has estrogenic effects and can stimulate the proliferation of hormone-sensitive cancer cells.
Sophora flavescens is a deciduous shrub related to peas. The root known as “Ku Shen” which means “bitter root” in Chinese, has been used in Traditional Medicine for two thousand years to treat a variety of conditions, including diarrhea, jaundice, skin rashes, and to kill parasites (1). Although this herb is generally not consumed as a dietary supplement in the West, recent lab studies indicate that it has antitumor properties and patients are using it as a natural cancer treatment.
Matrine, an alkaloid present in Sophora flavescens, demonstrated antitumor effects against liver (10)(18), breast (19), pancreas (20), myeloma (21) and gastric (22)(23) cancer cell lines. Other flavonoids such as kuraninone and sophoraflavonone are thought to be biologically active as well and may have vasodilatory and antiviral effects (5)(6)(7). However, large-scale clinical studies are needed at confirm these effects in humans.
Sophora flavescens acts as a phytoestrogen (24)(25)(26). Patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid this product.
Mechanism of Action
In animal models, the antiviral properties of sophoridine, an alkaloid constituent, appear to be mediated via upregulation of IL-10 and IFN-gamma cytokines (11). S. flavescens flavonoids may promote vasodilation by inhibiting Ca2+ influx through a voltage-gated channel (12). The flavonoids sophoraflavonone G and kurarinone appear to be responsible for antioxidant effects, which are mediated through free-radical scavenging (4). Anti-inflammatory effects of Sophoraflavonone G are attributed to the inhibition of prostaglandin E2 formation via COX-2 downregulation (13). (2S)-2’-Methoxykurarinone, a compound isolated from the S. flavescens root, inhibits osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption via receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB ligand (RANKL)-induced mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and c-Fos-NFATc1 signaling pathways (29).
Most of the reported antineoplastic effects of S.flavescens are due to the proapoptotic activity of matrine, the main alkaloid constituent. In human hepatocellular carcinoma cells, matrine inhibits matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) by downregulating the NF-kappa B pathway (18). It also demonstrates antiangiogenic effects by inhibiting VEGF and VEGFR-2 (19). Matrine triggers the mitochondrial pathway, in which cytochrome C release induces caspase-9 and -3 activation and subsequently induces apoptosis (2)(3)(10)(21).
Patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid taking S. flavescens as it demonstrated estrogenic effects in vitro (24)(25)(26), and can stimulate the proliferation of hormone-sensitive cancer cells.
Two constituents of S. flavescens, kurarinone and sophoraflavanone G, have hepatotoxic effects in animal studies (30).
Paclitaxel: In mice, S. flavescens flavonoids may enhance the effects of Taxol against certain tumors (16).
Ampicillin/gentamicin: In vitro, sophoraflavanone G may increase the activity of these antibiotics against oral bacteria (17).
Chen JK and Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. First ed. 2004, City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, Inc.