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Think all food preservatives are bad? This one kills cancer and more

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Natural food preservative kills cancer cells in mice

Researchers have discovered a naturally occurring food preservative that kills cancer cells. Nisin, a food preservative used to stop bacterial growth in dairy products, just might have potential as a cancer treatment.


Nisin is a peptide formed by the bacterium Lactococcus lactis that cannot be artificially produced. Scientists from University of Michigan recently discover the peptide has the ability to destroy head and neck cancer cells in just nine weeks.

The peptide was studied using a more potent form compared to previous research.

A research team led Dr.Yvonne Kapila, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry discovered highly purified nisin, given to mice in a high dose halted the growth of 70 to 80 percent of head and neck tumors.

The researchers found tumor growth in mice given a "nisin milkshake" lived longer. Tumor growth at nine weeks was comparable to three weeks.

Kapila is cautious however, saying there is no way to know yet whether nisin could also treat cancer in humans.

For the study researchers used a dosage of 800 mg/kg. Food contains approximately 25 to 37.5 mg/kg. of the preservative.

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Nisin kills antibiotic resistant germs

Nisin is also found in some antibacterial topical creams and hand sanitizers. Kapila says the preservative also has potent activity against antibiotic resistant bacteria.

"To date, nobody had found bacteria from humans or living animals that is resistant to nisin," Kapila said in a media release. The peptide works on two levels: It destroys the biofilm formed by bacteria that is used as a defense from being destroyed by antibiotics. Nisin also forms a bond that destroys germs before they can mutate to become superbugs.

Read: How antibiotics can help bacteria mutate

Another positive finding is that the food preservative has been around for thousands of years. "Mother Nature has done a lot of the research for us, it's been tested for thousands of years," Kapila said.

The researcher plans to continue testing nisin. Previous studies have shown the additive could help fight a variety of superbugs including MRSA, salmonella, and C. difficile.

Read: Why antibiotics can be deadly and what to do

There is potential the peptides in the food preservative could treat antibiotic resistant infections, cancer and periodontal disease that affects almost half of Americans.