The potent condiment wasabi, made from spicy Japanese horseradish, may be useful as more than just an addition to your sushi – a new study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine has revealed that it may actually have properties that help fight deadly pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is known for being particularly resistant to many conventional methods of treatment. Most people diagnosed with this form of cancer have very poor chances of living five years past their diagnosis, even with aggressive treatment(1). So researchers are particularly interested in any alternative medicines that might be useful in the treatment of this disease that conventional medicine may be overlooking.
With that in mind, researchers examined the effects of a compound found naturally in wasabi, known as 6-MITC, and two of its synthetic derivatives, on pancreatic cancer cells (CSCs). They found that these compounds were able to reduce the population of cancer stem cells, which makes pancreatic cancer so treatment-resistant(2).
The compound works by reducing the expression of a key CSC signaling molecule known as SOX2, which is essential for the self-renewal process of the cancer stem cells and their ability to split into other cell types.
“In conclusion, wasabi compound 6-MITC and its chemical derivative 17557 may possess bioactivity against human pancreatic cancer cells, including the CSC population,” the researchers concluded.
What Are Cancer Stem Cells?
Cancer stem cells, or CSCs, are cells that are found within tumors. These cells are capable of renewing themselves endlessly, making them effectively immortal – and particularly resistant to conventional forms of treatment. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy, along with surgery, are used to shrink and/or remove tumors, but cannot entirely remove the whole cancer stem cell population, making recurrence of cancers like pancreatic cancer a serious risk.
Killing Cancer Stem Cells – Naturally
Where conventional medicine has failed to find ways of dealing with the problems presented by cancer stem cells, researchers invested in natural, alternative, and complementary medicines have recently turned to examining plant-based compounds for their CSC-killing potential.
Their efforts have not gone in vain. Turmeric(3), blueberries(4), and even broccoli(5) all contain compounds which, in lab settings at least, have been found to target cancer stem cells. This new study featuring wasabi-based compounds is only the most recent in an ongoing spate of such research.
But while there’s no reason not to incorporate these foods into your diet, don’t expect simply eating them in abundance to cure cancer on its own. These studies take place in lab settings, where researchers are able to apply compounds directly to cancerous tumors and observe their effects.
Still, it is interesting to see the promise of natural food as medicine when it’s backed by scientific research.