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Foods That Kill Pancreatic Cancer Cells, New Research

Foods to fight pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease and a challenge to treat, but two scientists have made an important find regarding components in foods that kill pancreatic cancer cells. All the foods are common ones you can find in any supermarket, but the question is, how can researchers make use of this discovery to help people with the disease?

Which foods kill pancreatic cancer cells?

If you are fan of artichokes, celery, parsley, spinach, olive oil, peppers, oregano, cloves, basil, rosemary, thyme, and peppermint (and yes, let’s not forget red wine), then you already know some of the foods that contain the flavonoids shown to kill human pancreatic cancer cells. Recent studies on this topic was conducted by University of Illinois researchers Elvira de Meijia, professor of food chemistry and food toxicology, and Jodee Johnson, a doctoral student who has since graduated.

One thing they discovered is that the flavonoids apigenin and luteolin have the ability to inhibit an enzyme that is critical in pancreatic cancer. Here is how the researchers made their find.

The experiments involved the use of human pancreatic cancer cells, two chemotherapy drugs (5-fluorouracil and gemcitabine) and the two flavonoids. The cells were treated with the flavonoids as pretreatment and also with the chemotherapy drugs at various concentrations and at different times.

Overall they found that pretreating the cells for 24 hours with either flavonoid, followed by gemcitabine for 36 hours provided 59 to 73 percent inhibition of cell growth. Simultaneous treatment with either flavonoid and either chemotherapy drug, however, resulted in “less-than-additive effects.”

In addition, pretreatment with luteolin followed by gemcitabine significantly reduced expression of certain substances involved in the advancement of pancreatic cancer. Why do these flavonoids help fight pancreatic cancer?

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Professor de Mejia explained that “flavonoids and chemotherapeutic drugs may compete with each other when they’re introduced at the same time.” Therefore, administering the flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants, a day before chemotherapy, which provides a pro-oxidant activity, appears to provide a significantly better result.

The researchers also studied the impact of the flavonoids on apoptosis, or cell suicide, a natural process by which cells destroy themselves once their DNA has been damaged. Promoting apoptosis is important in fighting cancer.

In their experiments, the researchers found that apigenin inhibited an enzyme that led to a reduction in the production of anti-apoptotic genes in the pancreatic cancer cells. In fact, the percentage of cells that underwent apoptosis rose from 8.4 percent in pancreatic cancer cells not treated with the flavonoids to 43.8 percent after they were treated, and without the addition of chemotherapy drugs.

The researchers also are the first to show that administering apigenin can result in an increase in interleukin 17s in pancreatic cells. This suggests the flavonoid has potential in fighting pancreatic cancer.

Before you rush out and stock up on celery and peppermint (and red wine), note the authors concluded that patients with pancreatic cancer would not be able to consume enough of the flavonoids from these foods to be effective. However, eating lots of vegetables and fruits throughout a lifetime will expose you to flavonoids, “which would certainly help to reduce the risk of cancer,” explained de Mejia.

Scientists may also develop drugs capable of reaching the desired concentrations of the flavonoids in the body. Until then, following a diet with lots of flavonoid-rich foods can’t hurt. Research also suggests that red meat and foods with high fructose corn syrup contribute to pancreatic cancer growth while eating more fiber may help reduce the risk.

Johnson JL, Gonzalez de Mejia E. Flavonoid apigenin modified gene expression associated with inflammation and cancer and induced apoptosis in human pancreatic cancer cells through inhibition of GSK-3B/NF-kB signaling cascade. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 2013 Aug 14. DOI:10.1002mnfr.201300307
Johnson JL, Gonzalez de Mejia E. Interactions between dietary flavonoids apigenin or luteolin and chemotherapeutic drugs to potentiate anti-proliferative effect on human pancreatic cancer cell, in vitro. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2013 Oct. 60:83-91

Revised Aug 18, 2013
Image: Morguefile