CANCER
June 15, 2017

Visit Your Local "Farmacy"

Nutrients in fruits and vegetables contain compounds that can kill prostate and other cancer cells.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about the produce department as a “farmacy.” Two new studies pinpoint compounds in plant foods that can prevent or even starve cancer.

One study, published in Precision Oncology, identified naturally-occurring compounds —phytochemicals — in foods like red grapes, apple peels and turmeric that appear to impede the growth of prostate cancer in men. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin screened several plant-based chemicals to find specific combinations of nutrients that reduced the size of prostate cancer tumors.

Three plant chemicals stood out as the most promising: ursolic acid, found in apple peels and rosemary; curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow color; and resveratrol, found in red grapes and berries.

“The beauty of this study is that we were able to inhibit tumor growth in mice without toxicity,” Stefano Tiziana, one of the authors, said in a statement. The researchers also singled out combinations of nutrients that have a better effect on prostate cancer than existing drugs.

Over 140 natural compounds were tested on mouse and animal cells to determine which would inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells when given alone or in combination with some other nutrient. Three plant chemicals stood out as the most promising: ursolic acid, found in apple peels and rosemary; curcumin (pictured above), the compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow color; and resveratrol, found in red grapes and berries.

The plant-based chemicals worked together to prevent the growth of cancer cells in the prostate. The combination of ursolic acid with either resveratrol or curcumin blocked cancer cells’ uptake of glutamine, an amino acid that cancer cells require in order to grow.

Apples, grapes, berries and turmeric are readily available foods. When the amount of the identified plant chemicals is increased beyond what is normally found in a healthy diet, they exhibit potential anti-cancer properties on prostate cells, explained Tiziani, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

You can also add onions to the list of plant foods that may prevent cancer. Another study, published in Food Research International, found that high concentrations of the plant chemicals quercetin and anthocyanin were effective at killing cancer cells in the colon and breast.

Ursolic acid, curcumin, resveratrol, quercetin and anthocyanin may be unfamiliar words, but these phytochemicals can have a positive influence on the chemical processes taking place inside our bodies.

To lower your chances of getting cancer, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, focusing on those with bright colors and strong flavors because they generally are the best sources of plants' protective phytochemicals.

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