Artemisinin, also known as Sweet Wormwood, is an herb widely used for a variety of
different reasons. It is extracted from the plant Artemesia annua L. We feature it in our
Onco Care product, a supplement designed for dogs undergoing chemotherapy or
other types of cancer treatments. It has recently become known for its cancer-fighting
properties, but is also widely used as a successful anti-malaria drug.
In a study performed by Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington, results found
that the compound killed almost all of the human breast cancer cells. It was also
selective; nearly all the healthy cells that were exposed to it were alive and undamaged.
Artemisinin works due to its high iron concentrations. When the herb comes in contact
with iron, it causes a chemical reaction and creates charged atoms, called “free
radicals.” In malaria, these atoms were responsible for attacking cell membranes. Cells
use iron during reproduction, so many cancer cells may have higher iron concentrations
than healthy cells, due to cancer being a result of abnormal and usually excessive cell
division. Lai also notes that cancer cells have more receptors, or cellular pathways, that
allow iron to enter the cell. These “free radicals” are responsible for attacking and killing
the cancer cells, as was found with malaria.(1)
Artemisinin has also been linked as a treatment for Lyme Disease, Babesia, and
Ehrlichia in humans.(2)
Dogs are also susceptible to Lyme Disease, Babesia and Ehrlichia infections. All of
these diseases are transmitted by ticks and are more common in certain parts of North
America. In Lyme disease, the deer tick, also called Ixodes tick or black-legged tick.
Canine Lyme Disease is on the rise and has been found in more than twelve states in
the United States.
However, many dogs exposed to Lyme Disease may not show any clinical symptoms
of infection. Only a small percentage develop symptoms, including fever, lethargy,
lameness, discomfort, and joint pain. These symptoms are normally successfully treated
with an antibiotic. Dogs who are infected with other tick-borne diseases may show
If your dog has tested positive for Lyme Disease but is otherwise not showing any
symptoms, no treatment is necessary. If your dog does become ill with symptoms,
your veterinarian will often perform a blood test to determine what type of vector-borne
(insect-transmitted) illness could be affecting your pet. If it is Lyme Disease, then a
course of antibiotics is the standard treatment.
Recent studies have shown that artesunate, a derivative of artemisinin, may be effective
in treating Babesia infections. If your dog tests positive for a tick-borne disease such as
Lyme or Babesia and treatment is needed, it is worthwhile to talk to your local holistic
veterinarian. Artemisinin-based drugs or whole herbs may be beneficial in the treatment
Prevention is key, and luckily, there are several steps you can take to ensure your pet
doesn’t have an issue with Lyme Disease and ticks. Use a tick repellant — there are
several natural tick products, however in severe areas, some veterinarians recommend
a chemical product. It’s important to do research before using any product.
There is a vaccine available, however it is often not recommended. It is known for
having serious side effects, but it also does not prevent ticks from latching onto your pet
— so a topical repellant is often still necessary, resulting in just another chemical in your
(1) Singh, Narendra P., and Henry Lai. "Selective toxicity of dihydroartemisinin and
holotransferrin toward human breast cancer cells." Life sciences 70.1 (2001): 49-56.
(2) Naturopathic Doctor's Treatment of Lyme Disease (April 2011 ..." 2011. 6 Feb. 2014
(3) Goo, Y. et al., “Artesunate, a potential drug for treatment of Babesia infection.” Parasitol
Int. September 2010; 59(3):481-6.
About Dr. Deborah Shores
Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary
Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics
from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special
interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture
certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida.
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