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Vegetable Compounds Combat Cancer

ginger, hot pepper, cauliflower


In the ongoing war on cancer, researchers have enlisted a new series of soldiers: roots and vegetables. New findings presented at the American Association for Cancer Research show that a grocery list of vegetables including ginger, hot peppers and cauliflower show promise as cancer-combating agents.

Pharmacologist Shivendra Singh of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues showed that a chemical released when cruciferous vegetables--such as cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage--are chewed helps control human prostate tumors grafted into mice. Phenethyl-isothiocyanate, or PEITC, prompted the prostate cancer cells to kill themselves in a process called apoptosis. By the end of a 31-day treatment cycle, treated mice had tumors nearly two times smaller than their counterparts.

Fellow University of Pittsburgh pharmacologist Sanjay Srivastava and his colleagues found that capsaicin--the chemical that makes hot peppers hot--induced apoptosis in mice with human pancreatic cancer, an aggressive and usually fatal disease. Treated mice had tumors half the size of their untreated peers. "Capsaicin triggered the cancerous cells to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumors," Srivastava says.

Finally, at the same meeting, obstetrician J. Rebecca Liu of the University of Michigan and her colleagues reported that ginger powder, roughly the same as that sold in supermarkets, killed ovarian cancer cells in vitro both by triggering apoptosis and inducing them to cannibalize themselves, a phenomenon known as autophagy. "Most ovarian cancer patients develop recurrent disease that eventually becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy, which is associated with resistance to apoptosis," Liu explains. "If ginger can cause autophagic death in addition to apoptosis, it may circumvent [that] resistance."

"Patients are using natural products either in place of or in conjunction with chemotherapy and we don't know if they work or how they work," Liu adds. "There's no good clinical data." To that end, these new findings may well be seeds of change.

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