ISLAMABAD  - Scientists have discovered that extracts from a plant, found in arid regions of India and Pakistan can kill cancerous cells and produces no harmful side-effects associated with chemotherapy.

Tea from the plant known as virgin`s mantle is already drunk by women in rural Pakistan who have breast cancer, the Daily Mail reported.

Researchers from Aston University, Birmingham, and Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, found that it contains potent anti-cancer agents that act singly or in combination against the proliferation of cancer cells.

Laboratory tests showed they arrested the growth of cells within five hours of application and caused them to die within 24 hours.

The plant, which has the botanical name Fagonia cretica, is found in arid, desert regions of Pakistan, India, Africa and parts of Europe.

Professor Helen Griffiths and Professor Amtul R Carmichael, who headed the study, found herbal tea made from the extract of the plant destroys cancer cells but unlike conventional chemotherapy, treatment does not damage normal breast cells, thus reducing side effects.

Reports from breast cancer sufferers in Pakistan suggested the plant extract does not trigger any serious side effects such as loss of hair, drop in blood count or diarrhoea.

The plant extract had a novel mechanism which could remedy defects in cell DNA that would normally resist tumour growth.

An impaired DNA response not only allows the cancer to flourish, it also inhibits the way chemotherapy works which reduces its effectiveness.

“A small hospital 100 miles north of Lahore in Pakistan started using the herbal tea 40 years ago to treat breast cancer patients. It appears to keep them in remission, although we can`t use the word cure at this stage,” Carmichael said. “However, they live for a long time without losing their hair or putting on a large amount of weight, or experiencing other toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy, so we are confident this extract has something to contribute,” Carmichael was quoted by the paper as saying.

At present the herbal tea is being used to treat Asians but there might be different effects in Caucasian patients, she added.

‘30 minutes of daily exercise enough to lower weight’

Thirty minutes of daily exercise provides an equally effective loss of weight and body mass as does a 60-minute routine, according to a Danish research.

Forty percent of Danish men are moderately overweight. For 13 weeks, a research team at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences of the University of Copenhagen followed 60 heavy but healthy men in their efforts to get into better shape.

Half of the men were set to exercise for an hour a day, wearing a heart-rate monitor and calorie counter, while the second group was to exercise for 30 minutes, the American Journal of Physiology reports.

Research results showed that 30 minutes of exercise hard enough to produce a sweat was enough to turn the tide on an unhealthy body mass index, according to a Copenhagen statement.

On average, the men who exercised 30 minutes a day lost 3.6 kilo in three months, while those who exercised for a whole hour only lost 2.7 kg.

The reduction in body mass was about 4 kg for both groups, reports Mads Rosenkilde, doctoral student from the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Speech patterns reveal depression levels

Speech patterns can reveal the severity of depression as well as a patient’s response to treatment, suggests a new study. The study, the largest of its kind in the world, found that improvement in patients diagnosed with depression and undergoing treatment can be monitored over the phone by looking at changes in their speech.

Adam Vogel, who heads the Speech Neuroscience Unit at Australia’s University of Melbourne, said speech was a strong marker of brain health, and changes in how we sound reflected how well our brain was working, the journal Biological Psychiatry reports.

“The speech of people with depression changes when they respond to treatment, becoming faster and with shorter pauses. Those with more severe depression produce longer pauses and have slower speaking rates,” Vogel said, according to a Melbourne statement.

The randomised controlled trial of 105 patients looked at vocal acoustic properties such as timing, pitch and intonation to see if they could provide reliable biomarkers to depression severity and responses to treatment.

Patients were required to call an automated telephone system and leave samples of their speech, such as saying how they felt, reading a passage of text and reciting the alphabet.

“This offers greater treatment flexibility as we can now check on our patients remotely, looking at their speech patterns even from remote or rural areas,” said James Mundt, senior research scientist at the Centre for Psychological Consultation in Wisconsin, US, who collaborated with Vogel.

“We know that depressed patients have difficulties expressing themselves, so if we can improve how we assess depression, then we can improve how we treat it,” added Mundt.