Saffron might help prevent liver cancer, could help those at risk

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Herbs have anti-inflammatory and other healing properties that might help protect from a variety of diseases, including cancer. Researchers recently studied saffron, finding the spice, which comes from the Crocus sativus plant, might protect from liver cancer.

In new findings, scientists from United Arab Emirates University discovered the herb promotes aptosis, or cell death, stops the spread of liver cancer cells and blocks inflammation associated with a variety of liver disorders that increase the risk of cancer.

Saffron could protect from hepatotoxicity leading to cancer

The finding may be important for people at high risk for liver cancer. Professor Amr Amin says, "In the fight against cancer, there has been much interest in chemopreventive properties of natural herbs and plants.”

Saffron is readily available and might be considered useful for people with fatty liver disease, hepatitis or alcohol abuse that increase the chances of liver cancer.

Environmental exposure to tobacco, gasoline, red meat and milk product carcinogens also increase vulnerability to the disease, making saffron worth considering for its anti-cancer properties.

“With limited treatment options, approaches that prevent cancer development are among the best strategies to protect against the disease." Prior studies have shown that saffron, a naturally derived plant product, possesses antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties, Amin said. “Saffron is a commonly used spice, adding flavor and color to foods, and a possible cancer-fighting substance that is readily available”

High dose saffron promotes aptosis, prevents inflammation and blocks liver cancer spread

For the study, researchers induced cancerous liver lesions in rats using diethylnitrosamine (DEN).

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DEN is used in lab rats to induce hepatocellular carcinoma for experimental purposes.

The scientists pretreated the rats with saffron before injecting the rats with the cancer causing chemical.

The highest dose of saffron – 300mg/kg/day for two weeks – stopped the progression of liver nodules completely.

Liver enzyme tests, which indicate damage to the organ - gamma glutamyl transpeptidase, alanine aminotransferase and alpha-fetoprotein (GGT, ALT, αFP), decreased.

Several markers of cancer which are associated with cancer and found inside blood cells were inhibited by saffron, including Ki-67, cyclooxygenase 2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, nuclear factor-kappa Bp-65 and the phosphorylated tumor necrosis factor receptor.

Amin says the scientists are continuing their research to find out how saffron protects from liver cancer. In the current study, researchers found high dose extract of saffron inhibited inflammation, promoted cell death and stopped the spread of liver cancer in rats.

Hepatology: DOI: 10.1002/hep.24433
“Saffron: A Potential Candidate for a Novel Anti-Cancer Drug Against Hepatocellular Carcinoma."
Amr Amin, et al.
July 19, 2011 (DOI: 10.1002/hep.24433)

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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