The anti-malarial remedy artemisinin may be beneficial for dogs with osteosarcoma (the most common bone cancer). And more good news: it may also help several other cancers.
Studies have shown this herb can help chemotherapy do its job, and may also target cancer directly!
Let’s take a closer look at using artemisinin for dogs with cancer because there are several things to consider.
From Malaria to Cancer
Artemisinin is most famous for treating malaria infections.
It is derived from sweet wormwood, which has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat fevers.
Chinese scientist YouYou Tu even won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for her discovery of the compound and its anti-malarial properties.
Many drugs and remedies originally used for one thing turn out to have additional properties.
And as it turns out, artemisinin is also helpful in the fight against cancer.
How Artemisinin Works
Artemisinin reacts with iron in the body. How could that help with cancer?
Well, cancer cells take up more iron than normal body cells, because of their habit of rapidly dividing.
More Iron Uptake Creates Free Radicals Which Damage Cancer Cells
This iron uptake creates free radicals, which are little unstable atoms that can cause major damage in the body.
Normally, this is not good, because we don’t want healthy cells to encounter free radicals.
But when those free radicals are in cancer cells, it’s actually a good thing.
The free radicals caused by the extra iron in cancer cells react with parts of the cancer cell to cause injury.
Since normal body cells have much less iron, they are less affected by this damage.
For more helpful information and tools, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide
Again, when it comes to cancer, more free radicals (inside cancer cells) is desirable.
But that’s not all that artemisinin does!
Other Artemisinin Benefits
Some of the other properties that artemisinin has shown in studies include:
- Sensitizing cells to chemo drugs, making them more effective
- Increasing apoptosis
- Decreasing cancer cell communication
- Decreasing angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels that feed the tumor
Problems with Using Artemisinin
One of the challenges of using artemisinin is that it has a short half-life. That means it doesn’t stick around long.
It also has low bioavailability. This means that the digestive system may destroy it before it gets to the cancer cells where it is needed.
To help counteract these factors, some synthetic versions have been created. These forms can be more effective.
Artemisinin for Dogs
In a recent podcast (episode below), my colleague Dr. Nancy Reese, DVM, PhD, says that artemisinin has been shown to be beneficial for these cancers:
- Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
- Breast cancer
- Rectal Cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Kidney cancer
For dogs and owners battling osteosarcoma, anything that might help is welcome!
Many of the artemisinin studies have been done in vitro (in the lab). Others have been done using human subjects.
Humans and dogs are very similar when it comes to cancer, so what helps us may help them, and vice versa.
But some artemisinin studies have used or looked at dogs.
And one study even showed increased survival times for dogs who got artemisinin.
How Much Artemisinin to Give to Dogs
We are still learning the best dosage and dosage frequency.
In the past, it has been recommended to give artemisinin for five days or so and then take five days off. This is called “pulse dosing.”
But the current general recommendation is to give a lower dose every day consistently.
This still gets good results, but with fewer side effects.
The possible dose spread is huge, vaguely around 2 to 15 mg per pound one time a day. There is much variation on recommended doses.
It’s best to work with your veterinarian about dosing artemisinin, because there is no “one best dose” and frequency that fits all dogs and all situations.
Note: Keep in mind that if you are using my other “big gun” herbal apoptogen, Apocaps, you shouldn’t use both Apocaps and artemisinin on the same day. They are both potent, and artemisinin can be hard on the stomach (see below). If you want to use both together, rotate their use.
How to Give Artemisinin to Dogs
I recommend giving artemisinin with a small amount of something with fat. This could be fish oil, krill oil, peanut butter, or cream cheese.
This is because fat helps to increase the bioavailability of artemisinin.
NOTE: as always, if your dog has pancreatitis, avoid extra fats!
Some people recommend giving artemisinin with iron-rich foods, such as red meat.
Others are concerned that the artemisinin would react with the iron in the stomach, before it can get to the cancer cells.
Because of this, I recommend giving artemisinin four hours before or after a meal. This helps make sure the artemisinin targets the iron in the cancer cells.
But as always, ask YOUR vet the best plan for your dog. Your dog may have unique needs!
No Antioxidants With Artemisinin
When your dog has cancer, you often use more than one supplement, and sometimes you use an immune booster or antioxidant supplement.
If you do, remember that artemisinin is pro-oxidant and works by creating free radicals in cancer cells.
Antioxidants can counteract artemisinin’s effects.
Antioxidants will destroy those free radicals that are killing the cancer cells.
Because of this, giving artemisinin along with antioxidants can make it less effective.
How to Choose Artemisinin for Your Dog
As with any supplement, choose your product wisely and choose a reliable brand that makes a product to human-grade standards.
The absolute best way to pursue artemisinin with your dog is to see a veterinarian who uses it regularly and can recommend a reliable product.
They’ll also be able to give you the best dose and timing schedule for your dog’s situation.
When NOT to Give Artemisinin
Artemisinin is a powerful compound and can have negative effects as well as positive ones.
- Do not give artemisinin if your dog is getting radiation therapy. The current recommendation is to separate these two therapies by a couple months.
- Dogs with seizure disorders also should not get artemisinin.
Overall, artemisinin is very safe with low toxicity. However, it can cause adverse effects, such as:
- stomach upset
- bone marrow suppression
While we still have a lot to learn about the best dosing for artemisinin, this herbal compound has a lot of promise as an adjunctive treatment for cancer in dogs.
Best to all,
For more details, you can also check out the recent interview with Dr. Nancy Reese on Dog Cancer Answers.
Here is the video version of the podcast:
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Further Reading and References:
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.