Common Food Preservative May Fight Deadly Cancer

Nisin, food preservative, oral cancer
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Nisin is a natural, toxicologically safe, antibacterial food preservative that may also be helpful in slowing or stopping certain cancerous tumors. And more good news – the FDA has already approved the compound as safe for human consumption.

Nisin is a polypeptide produced by certain strains of the bacterium Lactococcus lacis. In 1969, it was approved for use as a antimicrobial in food by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. It is known as “food additive number 234” and is permitted for use in over 50 countries is products such as sour cream, cheese products, liquid egg products, dairy and fat-based bakery desserts, and salad dressings.

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University of Michigan School of Dentistry professor Yvonne Kapila has studied nisin and other antimicrobials and found that the food additive can slow cell proliferation or cause cell death in cancer cells through the activation of a protein called CHAC1. Nisin may work to slow or stop tumor growth by interrupting the cell cycle in “bad” cells, but not good cells, says Dr. Kapila.

Nisin appears to be particularly useful in stopping the growth of squamous cell head or neck cancers, including oral cancer – a leading cause of death worldwide. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, close to 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year.

"The poor five-year survival rates for oral cancer underscore the need to find new therapies for oral cancer," Kapila said. "The use of small antibacterial agents, like nisin, to treat cancer is a new approach that holds great promise. Nisin is a perfect example of this potential because it has been used safely in humans for many years, and now the laboratory studies support its anti-tumor potential."

Journal Reference:
Nam E. Joo, Kathryn Ritchie, Pachiyappan Kamarajan, Di Miao, Yvonne L. Kapila. Nisin, an apoptogenic bacteriocin and food preservative, attenuates HNSCC tumorigenesis via CHAC1. Cancer Medicine, 2012; DOI:10.1002/cam4.35

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