Red Sage roots x Oncology


Herbal medicines in the context of oncology has always been a subject for heated debates. On one side, you have the "alternative medicine enthusiasts" who fiercely believe that botanicals can be the cure to almost any diseases, sometimes forgetting that a handful of in vitro studies are not sufficient clinical evidence to characterise a plant as a proven cure. On the other side, you have the "pharmaceutical adepts" who are firmly convinced that the only thing a patient needs for its health, is a synthetised molecule, quickly forgetting that a lot of treatments today are from botanical origin, including cancer treatment.

The purpose of this article is not to determine if Red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) could be a treatment in onclogy, and has only for objective to show how fascinating a chinese medicinal plant can look when observed through the lens of modern Science. It's an invitation for health professionnals to explore the expanding world of medicinal plants and nutraceuticals, without forgetting that the future of botanicals is science-based.

Red Sage, also called danshen, is a perfect example to illustrate the health potential of medicinal plants in oncology. Traditionally used in Asia for cardiovascular conditions (see more about its benefits for cardiovascular health here), modern science has also investigated the other physiological and/or pharmacological properties of the plant and its active constituents, like neurological benefits (for more about the neurological impact of danshen read this article here). Among them, the impact on cancer cell lines and on their resistance to treatment was probably the most impressive.


As discussed in other articles about red sage, the root of the plant contains numerous active constituents with two main categories: Phenolic acids (Salvianolic acids, Salvianic acid, etc.) & Tanshinones (Tanhsinone I, Tanshinone IIA, Cryptotanshinone, Dihydrotanshinone, etc.). If there is multiple data in favor of a positive impact of the phenolic acids found in red sage on cancer [1-6], the data on tanshinones are far more significant in the oncological context. More specifically, Cryptotanshinone and Tanshinone IIA are of the utmost interest. Among the multiple molecular cascades involved in the effect of Tanshinone. The inhibition of PI3K/Akt/mTOR cascade by different tanshinones is one of the most widespread [7-9]. Another cascade frequently reported is the inhibitory effect of Cryptotanshinone on STAT3 [10-17]. Many studies indicate that tanshinones have both anti-proliferative activity on diverse cancer cell lines (see below) and sentization effect to reverse treatment resistance of specific cancers.

2.1. The case of Digestive Cancers

Colorectal cancer is a cancer type with high prevalence. If stomach and oesophageal cancer are also taken in consideration, digestive cancers can be considered as the third most important cancer category.

Cryptotanshinone [18-21] and Tanshinone II [22-26] has been identified as anti-proliferative agents in in vitro models of colorectal cancers. Some data also indicate that this activity can be transposed in vivo [27-29]. Similar results have been obtained for stomach cancers [30-34].
Finally, other tanshinones like dihydrotanshinone [35-36] and tetrahydrotanshinone (trijuganone) [37] have shown potential activity too.

2.2. Other examples

Digestive cancers described above are not the only one where tanshinones have been identified as interesting. Both Tanshinone IIA et Cryptotanshinone have been evaluated in the context of:

  • Lung cancers [38-47]
  • Breast cancers [48-54]
  • Leukemia [55-62]
  • Ovarian cancers [63-68]
  • Prostate cancers [69-75]
  • Skin cancers [76-80]
  • Bone cancers [81-86]

It should be noted that the majority of these studies are in vitro experiments. Therefore, they are not sufficient to consider tanshinones as a co-treatment in the field of oncology. However, with hundreds of scientific publications on the subject, Red sage is clearly a plant of clinical interest.

In previous articles, we have explore the health potential of Red Sage (Salvia militiorrhiza) on the cardiovascular and neurological sphere. Here, we have summerized the data on tanshinones in the context of cancer, showing that the plant is of the utmost interest in this area.These health benefits could lead to very innovative therapeutic tools. For example, since cryptotanshinone have strong anti-inflammatory properties and can limit the activity of STAT3, its impact on psoriasis could be tremendous. From a nutraceutical perspective, Red sage root could also be considered as a flagship ingredient for healthy aging combining neurological, cardiovascular and cellular protection.

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