Sea cucumber can be beneficial in the battle against cancer by killing cancer cells and stimulating the immune system.
What is a sea cucumber?
Consider the lowly sea cucumber. No it is not a vegetable although its name may suggest otherwise. It is a marine creature that lives all over the world on the ocean’s floor, especially in the Indian and western Pacific oceans. It is related to the sea urchin and the starfish. Shaped like a cucumber, hence the name, it looks more like a giant worm, especially since the majority of sea cucumbers have rows of tube feet running down the length of their body. There are over 1000 known species of sea cucumbers with some reaching 72 inches (180 cm) in length!
Sea cucumber, a delicacy used in Asian cooking, is safe for human consumption. It is usually dried and sold in markets as trepang or beche-de-mer.
It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to treat joint pain and arthritis (it is a rich source of chondroitin sulfate) and other inflammatory diseases, impotence, fatigue, frequent urination, constipation and as a longevity treatment.
The sea cucumber and cancer research
In 2011, Chicago’s Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center researchers studied the effects of sea cucumber extract on human pancreatic cancer cells. They quickly discovered that it was able to stop cancer cells from spreading and it in fact activated apoptosis (cell death) – cancer cells were dying within five minutes of exposure to the extract! This lead the researchers to recommend using sea cucumber extract in the treatment and the prevention of pancreatic cancer.
Since then, in vitro studies have shown that the fatty acids and sapiens found in sea cucumber prohibits metastasizing behavior preventing the formation of new tumors, prohibits a tumor from creating new blood vessels to feed itself, and induces apoptosis (cell death) at very high rates. Additionally it demonstrated the ability to activate the immune system’s killer cells to attack breast cancer cells. Since this was an immune response, sea cucumber may be effective in the treatment of all cancers.
Previous research on sea cucumbers has validated its capabilities for killing breast, lung, skin, colon, prostate, liver and pancreatic cancer cells. Frondoside A, a component of the sea cucumber, is believed to be a powerfully key component in the battle against cancer. Recent studies have shown it has shown that frondoside A “can kill 95% of ER+ breast cancer cells, 95% of liver cancer cells, 90% of melanoma cells, and 85-88% of three different types of lung cancer.” Some studies have even shown frondoside A to be as effective as chemotherapy but without any side effects.
Sea cucumber extract can be purchased as a dietary supplement at most health food stores and Asian markets. It may be a single ingredient dietary supplement or compounded with other ingredients in a formulation. The liquid extract is often a part of a joint formula, but tablets consisting of pressed ground, dried sea cucumber are generally available.
Contraindications: Do not take sea cucumber in any form if you have an allergy to seafood, or if you are taking anticoagulants as it may act as a blood thinner.
Why the sea cucumber might be a winner in the battle against cancer
At first glance sea cucumbers appear to be totally defenseless. However, when they feel threatened, they can violently contract their bodies, literally turning themselves inside out, expelling a large part of their insides including organs and intestines. The organs contain a toxic substance that is lethal to fish and other marine creatures. The it is then able to regenerate these expelled organs and body parts within a few months. This regenerative power may be what makes the lowly sea cucumber a winner in the fight against cancer.