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Health News Archive 6 - Cancer
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Green Tea's Cancer Fighting Ability Explained

Green tea's ability to fight cancer is even more potent and varied than scientists suspected, say researchers. These researchers have discovered that chemicals in green tea shut down one of the key molecules that tobacco relies upon to cause cancer. It's a find that could help explain why people who drink green tea are less likely to develop cancer. The finding by scientists at the University of Rochester's Environmental Health Science Center appears in the July 2003 issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology, published by the American Chemical Society.

Researchers set out to measure the effects of the chemicals found in green tea on a molecule known as the aryl hydrocarbon (AH) receptor, a molecule that frequently plays a role in turning on genes that are oftentimes harmful. These researchers have previously shown how both tobacco smoke and dioxin manipulate the molecule – a favorite target of toxic substances – to cause havoc within the body.

The team isolated the chemicals that make up green tea and found two that inhibit AH activity. The two substances, epigallocatechingallate (EGCG) and epigallocatechin (EGC), are close molecular cousins to other flavonoids found in broccoli, cabbage, grapes and red wine that are known to help prevent cancer.

While green tea has been much-ballyhooed for its anti-cancer effects as well as other purported abilities such as preventing rheumatoid arthritis and lowering cholesterol, just how the substance works has been a mystery. Scientists do know that green tea contains chemicals that are anti-oxidants and quench harmful molecules. But its effects on the AH receptor have not been thoroughly evaluated until now.

"It's likely that the compounds in green tea act through many different pathways," says Dr. Gasiewicz, professor and chair of Environmental Medicine and director of Rochester's Environmental Health Science Center. "Green tea may work differently than we thought to exert its anti-cancer activity."

The study showed that the green tea chemicals shut down the AH receptor in cancerous mouse cells, and early results indicate the same is true in human cells as well.

In the laboratory, the AH-inhibiting effects of green tea become evident when EGCG and EGC reach levels typical of those found in a cup of green tea. But the scientists say that how green tea is metabolized by the body is crucial to its effectiveness, and that results in the laboratory don't necessarily translate directly to the dinner table.

For this work Christine Palermo, one of the research team, received the award for best poster in the chemical carcinogenesis specialty section at the meeting of the Society of Toxicology in March. Now she is studying exactly how green tea inhibits the AH receptor.

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Vitamin E Update: Gamma-tocopherol, Not Alpha­-tocopherol, Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth

Gamma-tocopherol is the most abundant form of Vitamin E. However, research has found that much of it is excreted through urine after being metabolized by the liver. The "gamma" form of Vitamin E has been shown to be superior to the "alpha" form for inhibiting cancer cell growth. Recent research supports the theory that gamma-tocopherol's antioxidant role goes above and beyond that of alpha-tocopherol by effectively entrapping and removing mutagenic (induces genetic mutation) oxidants. It is the gamma-form that seems to disband free radicals and force them into submission.

Cyclooxygenease-2 (COX-2) is an enzyme that causes synthesis of prostaglandin El, an inflammation-causing chemical in the body, which plays a key role in inflammation, vascular heart disease and cancer. It promotes tumor growth via several mechanisms, one of which is to promote the development of blood vessels into the tumor. It is believed that blocking the action of the COX-2 enzyme is a crucial variable in cancer therapy.

A study showed that gamma-tocopherol (gamma T) reduced prostaglandin synthesis in both macrophages (immune cells) and human epithelial cells.  In addition, gamma tocopherol’s major metabolite (gamma-CEHC, produced by metabolism), also showed an inhibitory effect.  In contrast, the alpha-tocopherol form of Vitamin E only slightly reduced prostaglandin formation in macrophages, and had no effect in epithelial cells. The inhibitory effects shown by Vitamin E gamma-tocopherol and its metabolite came from their inhibition of COX-2 activity, and appeared to be independent of antioxidant activity.

The Vitamin E gamma-tocopherol metabolite also inhibited prostaglandin synthesis to COX-2-preinduced cells after arachidonic acid was added, when exposed for only one hour. However, gamma-tocopherol required eight to 24 hours to cause the inhibition. The results indicate that gamma ­tocopherol and its major metabolite both possess anti-inflammatory activity, important in human disease prevention.


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Antioxidant Vitamins May Enhance Benefits of Cancer Radiation Therapy

BACKGROUND: The use of antioxidant supplements in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy is a controversial issue in cancer treatment. Radiation therapy kills cancer cells by generating large numbers of destructive free radicals. Some oncologists believe that antioxidants may reduce the benefits of radiation therapy, while others believe that antioxidants may improve the efficacy of the radiation therapy while protecting normal cells.

RESEARCH: A review of antioxidant supplement use in patients undergoing radiation therapy showed that high-doses of vitamins A, C, and E (particularly natural vitamin E), and beta-carotene, may inhibit the growth of many different types of cancer cells in culture, without inhibiting the growth of normal cells. Low doses of antioxidants do not appear to have this anti-cancer effect.

RESULTS: In a pilot clinical trial, as well as in uncontrolled clinical experiences, physicians have found that high-dose antioxidant supplements before and after radiation therapy led to an improved quality of life without any adverse effects in patients undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy. Some researchers suggest that the antioxidants should be taken at least 48 hours before radiation therapy begins to initiate the cancer-fighting properties of the vitamins.

IMPLICATIONS: This review suggests that the clinical use of high-dose antioxidant supplements, particularly vitamins A, C, natural E, and beta-carotene, may be beneficial as an adjunct treatment in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Prasad KN, Cole WC, Kumar B, et al, "Pros and cons of antioxidant use during radiation therapy," Cancer Treatment Reviews, 2002;28:79-91.

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Eat Raspberries Containing Ellagic Acid, Cancer Researchers Say

May 17, 2002, Natural Products Expo, Europe
In a recent study, rats that were injected with a cancer-causing agent and then fed a berry-rich diet have been found to have 80 per cent fewer malignant tumors compared to rats that had no berries in their diet.  For years, scientists have touted the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. They're only now starting to gain an understanding of what compounds give certain foods a healthy edge. 

Black raspberries are rich in several substances thought to have cancer-preventing properties, said Gary Stoner, a study co-author and a professor of public health at Ohio State University. Stoner is also a researcher at the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Such substances are called antioxidants. The researchers also compared the antioxidant activity of black raspberries to that of blueberries and strawberries, two fruits with suspected chemo-preventive effects with black raspberries coming out on top.

"We were surprised by how much difference there was between the antioxidant activity of the raspberries versus the other fruits," Stoner said. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Nutrition and Cancer.

The rats in the study had to eat the human equivalent of four cups of fresh black raspberries every day. "That may seem a bit extreme," Stoner says. But the animals also got a huge dose of a cancer-causing drug - so maybe smaller portions of berries could protect people against cancer. Rats were injected with azoxymethane (AOM), a carcinogen that causes colon tumors. After two weeks of exposure to AOM, the animals were placed into four groups and fed diets mixed with 0, 2.5, 5 or 10 per cent freeze-dried black raspberries. Two additional groups of rats, which did not receive AOM, served as controls. The two latter groups were fed a diet containing zero or five per cent freeze-dried black raspberries, respectively.

At the end of the study, the prevalence of adenocarcinomas or malignant tumors was reduced by 80 per cent in the rats that ate the most black raspberries in their diets.  The study also compared the antioxidant activity of the black raspberries to that of strawberries and blueberries. Using a device that measured each fruit's ability to absorb free radicals, the researchers found that black raspberries topped the charts: these berries exhibited 11 per cent more antioxidant activity than blueberries and 40 per cent more than strawberries.

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Sushi May Protect Against Rare Type of Lung Cancer

The Japanese love of fresh fish--particularly sushi--may protect them against lung cancer, according to a report in the May, 2001 issue of the British Journal of Cancer.

Dietary factors such as frequent consumption of soybean products, green tea and fish have long been thought to be one reason why Japanese lung cancer deaths and incidence rates are less than two-thirds those in the United States and the UK. However, study findings have often been inconclusive or contradictory.

To investigate the issue further, scientists from the Cancer Center Research Institute and Cancer Center Hospital of Aichi, Japan, looked at the diets of over 1,000 Japanese men and women with different types of lung cancer and compared them with over 4,000 healthy individuals.

The study found that people who ate the most fresh fish were only half as likely to develop rare cancers of the lung called adenocarcinoma compared with people who ate the least fresh fish. Dried and salted fish consumption was not associated with any protective effect against lung cancer.

Fresh fish rich in fish oil containing polyunsaturated fatty acids may be the reason for the protective effect, the researchers noted. "The relatively lower mortality rate of lung cancer in Japan might thus be at least partly attributable to higher consumption of fish," they report.

Even though the protective effect was only significant in the case of adenocarcinomas, a particularly rare type of lung cancer, lead study author Professor Toshiro Takezaki said in a news release, "Japanese people love their fresh fish, particularly sushi. We think that is why, even though the Japanese smoke as much as people in the UK, their rate of lung cancer is only two-thirds as high."

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of The Cancer Research Campaign, which publishes the British Journal of Cancer, added, "This research once again emphasizes the important interaction of diet with tobacco in deciding whether we will develop lung cancer. The most important thing anyone can do to cut their risk from lung cancer is to give up smoking, but for those people who are unable to quit, eating lots of fresh fish could be a useful way to moderate their risk."

SOURCE: British Journal of Cancer 2001;84.

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