The dried leaf or extract of the Artemisia annua plant or its natural derivative artemisinin are available as supplements with anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Safety and precautions
Side effects or adverse events
Liver toxicity has been reported among people using Arthrem, an Artemisia annua extract;1Warning of potential harm to liver associated with the natural medicine Arthrem. Ministry of Health—Manatū Hauora (New Zealand). February 19, 2018. Viewed October 18, 2022. routine monitoring of liver function routinely is advised during use.
Vomiting is the most common side effect reported among people treated with Artemisia annua tea for malaria.2Willcox ML, Burton S et al. Evaluation and pharmacovigilance of projects promoting cultivation and local use of Artemisia annua for malaria. Malaria Journal. 2011 Apr 11;10:84.
Interactions with other therapies
Artemisinin-based therapies have shown pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic drug interactions with HIV antiviral treatment and treatment failure in some studies with cardiovascular, antibiotic, and antiparasitic drugs.3Hernandez Maldonado J, Grundmann O. Drug-drug interactions of artemisinin-based combination therapies in malaria treatment: a narrative review of the literature. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2022 Oct;62(10):1197-1205.
Do not use (contraindications)
Use during pregnancy may cause harm to the fetus.4Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010. p. 162. Of about 3,000 cases of presumed malaria treated with A. annua teas, including 54 women in the first trimester of pregnancy, 2 miscarriages were reported.5Willcox ML, Burton S et al. Evaluation and pharmacovigilance of projects promoting cultivation and local use of Artemisia annua for malaria. Malaria Journal. 2011 Apr 11;10:84.
Consult your pharmacist for interactions, and discuss using Artemisia annua or artemisinin with your doctor. We recommend that patients who use either of these therapies for cancer seek guidance about usage, dose, and formulation from an integrative cancer care clinician or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner with experience working with cancer patients.
- Mild and temporary symptoms: cold hands and feet, numbness, tinnitus, dizziness, headache, gastrointestinal discomfort, loss of appetite (anorexia), nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Increased liver enzymes
- Anemia due to iron loss
Dr. McKinney also lists several precautions for artemisinin:
- People with an iron deficiency should stop using antioxidant supplements during the week of artemisinin use. All antioxidants except vitamin E can be used during the week when artemisinin is not being used.
- Artemisinin works better among people who are physically active, and so a sedentary lifestyle could be an indication against use.
- Artemisinin use is contraindicated among people who use tobacco. People planning to use artemisinin should stop tobacco use 6 months before beginning artemisinin treatment.
- Don’t use artemisinin during or for 2 months after radiotherapy or surgery. One exception is use as a radiosensitizer in whole-brain radiation for glioblastoma.
Keep reading about Artemisia annua and artemisinin