Unveiling the Power of Feverfew in Cancer Defense

The potent sesquiterpene lactone, Parthenolide, the primary bioactive component of the herb feverfew, has proven itself an adversary of cancer stem cells. Numerous studies reveal its propensity to target these malignant cells via the nuclear factor kappa-B pathway. This potent compound, also discovered in magnolia, is recognized for its migraine-relieving properties.

Introducing Feverfew: Nature's Mysterious Medicament

Scientifically known as Tanacetum parthenium, Feverfew is a potent herb renowned for its rich sesquiterpene lactone profile, especially Parthenolide, which is found in the highest concentrations in its flowers and fruits. A member of the chrysanthemum family, feverfew, also known as wild chamomile or Bachelor's button, originated in the Balkan Peninsula. However, due to its medicinal virtues, it's cultivated worldwide today.

Equipped with versatile pharmacologic properties, Feverfew can act as an anti-inflammatory, anticancer, cardiotonic agent, muscle spasm suppressor, menstrual flow stimulator, and vermifuge (1).

Historical and Contemporary Applications of Feverfew

With a historical resume dating back to Ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, Feverfew has been utilized as a remedy for a myriad of ailments ranging from rheumatoid arthritis and insect bites to stomachaches and toothaches. Its benefits extend to alleviate menstrual discomfort, fevers, and migraines.

Feverfew remains a preferred option for migraine prevention, a recommendation upheld by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Parthenolide, a key extract from Feverfew, inhibits smooth muscle spasms and constricts brain blood vessels, reducing migraine frequency by 40% in a 4-month study (2). A 2011 trial substantiated that a sublingual concoction of Feverfew and ginger could relieve migraines in two hours for 63% of patients (3). Crucially, Feverfew can cross the blood-brain barrier.

A Deep Dive into Feverfew’s Impact on Cancer Stem Cells

Parthenolide's impact extends beyond targeting cancer cells; it infiltrates the disease at its root by attacking cancer stem cells. This attribute places it under the spotlight, particularly when no mainstream cancer drug can match this capability. The FDA pledged to accelerate Feverfew's development and use in 2005, but progress remains awaited.

The power of Parthenolide has been demonstrated against various cancers such as Pancreatic cancer, Multiple Myeloma, Breast cancer, Leukemia, Prostate cancer, and Lung cancer, primarily by inhibiting proliferation, causing apoptosis, and modulating the cancer microenvironment (4,7,9,11,12).

The Research: Feverfew vs. Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer: Research has shown that parthenolide, when combined with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, sulindac, can suppress growth and inhibit the nuclear factor-kappa B pathway in pancreatic carcinoma cells (4).

Multiple Myeloma: Johns Hopkins Medical School discovered that parthenolide positively impacts the bone marrow microenvironment, which is crucial in managing MM. It causes apoptosis and appears to work effectively in conjunction with the drug dexamethasone (11).

Breast Cancer: Researchers found that daily intake of Parthenolide could suppress metastases in breast cancer-infected mice and increase response to Paclitaxel (taxol). Subsequent studies explored other sesquiterpene lactones, such as costunolide, for their potential effects (9).

Leukaemia: Parthenolide displayed a potent anti-leukaemia effect and could kill cancer stem cells without harming healthy ones. A recent study from Thailand highlighted that costunolide and parthenolide, both from Magnolia sirindhorniae, inhibited leukemic cell proliferation (12).

Prostate Cancer: By 2009, studies indicated that Parthenolide could target cancer stem cells in prostate cancer (7).

Lung Cancer: Research in 2018 unveiled that parthenolide could inhibit the tumor-promoting effects of nicotine in lung cancer (10).

The Parthenolide Factor: A Beacon of Hope Against Cancer

Cancer stem cells, the so-called 'Initiating Cells,' are invulnerable to chemotherapy drugs and rekindle tumor growth. Herein, Parthenolide presents a compelling strategy, as showcased in a 2013 study where it eliminated Leukemia-Initiating cells in animals (11).

Meanwhile, studies show that Parthenolide can inhibit nicotine's tumor-promoting effects in lung cancer, regulate VEGF expression (a common factor in NSCLC), and induce apoptosis (10). Both parthenolide and costunolide, found in Magnolia sirindhorniae, and honokiol, derived from the magnolia bush, exhibit potent anti-cancer and anti-proliferative effects in numerous cancers, including lung cancer.

Ultimately, the research speaks volumes about Feverfew and its primary bioactive ingredient, Parthenolide's power against cancer. Feverfew's potency lies in its unique ability to kill 'Initiating Cells', which, resistant to chemotherapy drugs, survive to reignite tumor growth. The future of Feverfew is promising, and while waiting for more research, it's clear that this humble herb is a natural powerhouse in the fight against cancer.


  1. Feverfew: Systematic review; Anil Pareek et al; Pharmacognosy; 2011.
  2. Deiner et al; 2005;
  3. Headache; 2011; Roger K Cady et al.
  4. Michele T Yip-Schneider et al;
  5. Web MD;
  6. Paraskevi Diamanti et al; Bristol University Molecular Sciences, UK
  7. Brian T Kawasaki et al; Prostate. 2009 Jun 1;69(8): 827–837; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2700306/
  8. Jun-Wei Liu et al; J Exp Clin Canc Res; 2010
  9. 2013; Breast Cancer Research, Rebecca A Whipple et al;
  10. 2018; Wamidh H Talib; Biomed Pharmacother
  11. Parthenolide-induced apoptosis in multiple myeloma cells; Wei Wang et al; Apoptosis; 2006 Dec;11(12):2225-35
  12. .Costunolide and parthenolide from Champi Sirindhorn (Magnolia sirindhorniae) inhibit leukemic cell proliferation in K562 and molt-4 cell lines; .Sawalee Saosathan et al; Nat Prod Res; 2021 Mar;35(6):988-992.

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