Senescent Cells Are Linked To Cancer and Aging

By Tom Cowan, M.D.

Many years ago, one of the world’s experts on the use of strophanthus/ouabain, Hauke Furstenwerth, told me in an email that he considered strophanthus/ouabain to be the best anti-aging medicine on the planet.  At the time, besides his own direct experience, I wasn’t clear on his evidence for this claim, so I “filed” it in the get-back-to-it-later department.

Then, just yesterday, Joe Mercola sent me an interesting article* about the role of ouabain in senescence.  Apparently, researchers are studying what are called senescent cells, which they think are key to understanding diseases associated with aging, cancer and even the aging process itself.  Once the role of these senescent cells had been elucidated, the next step was to find natural products that influenced the behavior of these cells.  Here is the first quote from the article about the role of senescent cells in health and disease:

Senescent cells are present in pre-neoplastic and fibrotic lesions, they accumulate in old tissues and are associated with an increasing list of pathologies.

In other words, the current research is demonstrating that the accumulation of senescent cells happens in tissues right before those cells become cancer.  Also, these senescent cells accumulate in old tissues and are associated with many diseases associated with aging.

They then go on to say that a new class of medicines has been discovered, called “senolytics,” which are compounds that help the body get rid of these senescent cells.  The article is about how of all the natural senolytics discovered, ouabain, the active ingredient in the strophanthus seed, is the most potent.  Here is the abstract from this same article:

Senescence is a cellular stress response that results in the stable arrest of old, damaged or pre-neoplastic cells. Oncogene-induced senescence is tumor suppressive but can also exacerbate tumorigenesis through the secretion of proinflammatory factors from senescent cells. Drugs that selectively kill senescent cells, termed ‘senolytics,’ have proved beneficial in animal models of many age-associated diseases. In the present study, we show that the cardiac glycoside ouabain is a senolytic agent with broad activity. Senescent cells are sensitized to ouabain-induced apoptosis, a process mediated in part by induction of the proapoptotic Bcl-2 family protein NOXA. We demonstrate that cardiac glycosides synergize with anti-cancer drugs to kill tumor cells and eliminate senescent cells that accumulate after irradiation or in old mice. Ouabain also eliminates senescent pre-neoplastic cells. The findings of the present study suggest that cardiac glycosides may be effective anti-cancer drugs by acting through multiple mechanisms. Given the broad range of senescent cells targeted by cardiac glycosides, their use against age-related diseases warrants further exploration.

In my new cancer book, I wrote about the evidence that strophanthus/ouabain and all cardiac glycosides (the family of medicines that “stimulate” the heart, of which strophanthus and digitalis are the most common examples) are effective cancer medicines.  I based this assertion on their effect on the sodium-potassium balance in the cell, personal experience and the published research on the use of cardiac glycosides with cancer patients.  This article extends that concept with an additional mechanism through which strophanthus/ouabain can not only prevent the development of cancer but also the development of many other diseases of aging. 

Strophanthus/ouabain has been safely and effectively used as a heart medicine for more than a hundred years.  It clearly is one of the most important plant medicines ever discovered.  As Dr. Knut Sroka repeatedly states in his writings, the fact that the medical profession has forgotten about strophanthus/ouabain is a “wasted opportunity” with tragic consequences.  Mr. Furstenwerth urged me to give all my 55-plus-year-old patients strophanthus, at least at a low dose. Perhaps he was correct.

* [1] Cardiac glycosides are broad-spectrum senolytics
Ana Guerrero1,2, Nicolás Herranz1,2, Bin Sun   1,2, Verena Wagner1,2, Suchira Gallage   1,2,3, Romain Guiho4, Katharina Wolter5,6, Joaquim Pombo1,2, Elaine E. Irvine1,2, Andrew J. Innes   1,2, Jodie Birch   1,2, Justyna Glegola1,2, Saba Manshaei4, Danijela Heide3, Gopuraja Dharmalingam1,2, Jule Harbig5,6, Antoni Olona7, Jacques Behmoaras7, Daniel Dauch5,6, Anthony G. Uren1,2,
Lars Zender5,6,8, Santiago Vernia1,2, Juan Pedro Martínez-Barbera   4, Mathias Heikenwalder3, Dominic J. Withers   1,2 and Jesús Gil   1,2*

NAtURE MEtABOLISM | VOL 1 | NOVEMBER 2019 | 1074–1088 | www.nature.com/natmetab

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