A new study at the University of Illinois found that celery, artichokes and certain herbs (especially Mexican oregano) contain flavonoids which kill pancreatic cancer cells.
The study found that a particular flavonoid called
apigenin inhibited an enzyme called glycogen synthase kinase-3β, which led to a decrease in particular genes, causing the cancer cells to self-destruct. In one type of pancreatic cancer, the percentage of cells self-destructing went from 8.4 percent in untreated cells to 43.8 percent in cells that had been treated with apigenin. And this was without the addition of chemotherapy drugs.
Timing Is Important
“Apigenin alone induced cell death in two aggressive human pancreatic cancer cell lines. But we received the best results when we pre-treated cancer cells with apigenin for 24 hours, then applied the chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine for 36 hours,” said Elvira de Mejia, a University of Illinois professor of food chemistry and food toxicology.
“The trick seemed to be using the flavonoids as a pre-treatment instead of applying them and the chemotherapeutic drug simultaneously,” said Jodee Johnson, a doctoral student in de Mejia’s lab. “Our study indicated that taking antioxidant supplements on the same day as chemotherapeutic drugs may negate the effect of those drugs.”
She went on to explain that apigenin is an anti-oxidant. In contrast, one of the ways chemotherapy drugs kill cells is by being pro-oxidant. This means apigenin and chemotherapy drugs may work against each other when they’re introduced at the same time. The key is to apply them separately.
Prevention Is key
De Mejia cautioned, “Pancreatic cancer patients would probably not be able to eat enough flavonoid-rich foods to raise blood plasma levels of the flavonoid to an effective level. But scientists could design drugs that would achieve those concentrations.”
The main benefit may be in the area of prevention. Johnson concluded, “If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables throughout your life, you’ll have chronic exposure to these bioactive flavonoids, which would certainly help to reduce the risk of cancer.”
Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive cancer, and there are few early symptoms. This means the disease is often not found until it has spread. Ultimately the goal is to develop a cure, but prolonging the lives of patients would be a significant development. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer related deaths, with a five-year survival rate of only 6 percent. Eating foods that lower your risk is a step in the right direction.