With almost a million estimated new cases of cancer each year in the United States alone(1), it’s small wonder that cancer research is a multi-billion dollar industry, covering a huge body of work.
While some of this research goes into the treatment and management of cancer, in recent years other branches of research have focused on what is known as “functional medicine”.
Functional medicine seeks to not simply treat or manage cancer, but to cure it entirely, by eliminating it at its source.
Cancer stem cells, which are often resistant to radiation treatment and chemotherapy, can spread and grow even while the disease is being treated. While tumors can be removed and the effects managed, the danger with cancer lies in the spread of these stem cells to vulnerable areas of the body.
Cancer treatments which can induce apoptosis, or selective cell death that targets cancer cells specifically without harming non-cancerous cells, are the priority for functional medicine research. This is the core concept of a “cure” for cancer.
The Promise Of New Research
Although different types of cancer obviously respond differently to certain approaches, there has been a huge trend in functional medicine recently of exploring the potential of natural compounds within various food items, including spices, for inducing apoptosis. These compounds, known as phytonutrients, are the subject of a recent paper in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, titled “Phytochemicals As Innovative Therapeutic Tools Against Cancer Stem Cells”(2).
The paper, which reviewed roughly thirty years of relevant cancer research, singled out ten natural substances with effective chemopreventative qualities. These substances are:
- A green tea extract known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate
- Curcumin, the primary compound in the spice turmeric
- Resveratol, which is found in foods like grapes, peanuts, and Japanese knotweed
- Lycopene, a carotenoid which gives foods like watermelon, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes their pink or red coloring
- Pomegranate extract
- A flavonoid found in peppers and other green veggies, known as luteolin
- Genistein, a phytochemical found in coffee
- Piperine, a phytochemical found in black pepper
- Beta-carotine, a carotenoid found in carrots and other vegetables
- Sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables
The discovery that these phytochemicals can selectively target cancer stem cells is being hailed by the researchers on the study as “a milestone in the improvement of cancer treatment, because the synthetic anticancer drugs that are currently used are often highly toxic for healthy organs and weaken the patients immune system.”
“Moreover, it is necessary to compare the anticancer effects of natural phytochemicals extracted from vegetables with synthetic products that may be less efficient than the natural forms due to different mixtures of stereoisomers,” researchers added.
“Current findings on phytochemicals warrant further investigation in order to better define the role played by these molecules in human cancer therapy.”