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Scientists advance natural cures for cancers

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Garlic, leeks and shallots

Scientists have advanced in the search for natural cures for cancers.

Latest findings showed onions, leeks, and garlic slash the chance of getting deadly bowel tumour; diet rich in whole grains, bran, and cereal fibre reduces risk of liver cancer by 40 per cent; and how chronic stress boosts malignant cell growth.

A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology found that Allium vegetables – which also include garlic, leeks, chives and shallots – dramatically cut the risk of bowel cancer.

The study of more than 1,600 men and women found those with the biggest intake were 79 per cent less likely to develop bowel cancer than those with the least.

Bioactive compounds in allium vegetables have previously been shown to protect against breast and prostate cancer.

Senior author of the latest study, Dr. Zhi Li, of the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang, said: “The greater the amount of allium vegetables, the better the protection.”

The researchers found eating at least 35lb a year could reduce bowel cancer risk. This would be around one-and-a-half ounces a day – equivalent to an onion.

The study, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, compared 833 bowel cancer patients with the same number of healthy controls, using a food frequency questionnaire.

Li pointed out that cooking method had an effect. For example, boiling onions reduced useful chemicals, while slicing and crushing fresh garlic was beneficial.

Earlier studies showed extracts from onion, garlic, lime, olive oil, hog plum, chieftaincy leaf, and asthma herb provided novel cure for ear, nose and throat infections.

The researchers showed the efficacy of naturopathic herbal extract (consisting of Allium sativum (garlic), Verbascum thapsus (mullein flowers), Calendula flores (marigolds), and Hypericum peroforatum (St. John’s wort) in olive oil in the management of ear pain associated with acute otitis media (AOM).

The study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics and Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine is titled “Efficacy of Naturopathic Extracts in the Management of Ear Pain Associated With Acute Otitis Media.”

The researchers evaluated the efficacy and tolerance of Otikon Otic Solution (Healthy-On Ltd, Petach-Tikva, Israel), a naturopathic herbal extract (containing Allium sativum, Verbascum thapsus, Calendula flores, and Hypericum perforatum in olive oil), compared with Anaesthetic (Vitamed Pharmaceutical Limited, Benyamina, Israel) ear drops (containing ametocaine and phenazone in glycerin) in the management of ear pain associated with acute otitis media (AOM).

Also, researchers have identified and validated garlic as one of the local spices and food items that could be effectively used to control and manage hypertension. Others are: beetroot, Zobo and banana.

Yet another study validated garlic and onions for the treatment of drug resistant malaria and typhoid fever.

A herbal preparation made predominantly with garlic, ginger, onions, scent leaf, lemon grass, unripe pawpaw, lime/lemon, African pepper (Uda in Igbo), clove, Gongronema latifolium (Utazi in Ibo, arokeke in Yoruba) and West African Black pepper (Uziza in Igbo) has been effectively used to stop malaria and typhoid.

Also, naturopaths recommend eating onions, leeks and artichokes if you are stressed and struggling to sleep. For scientists have discovered that the popular vegetables could help humans to relax – allowing them a better night’s sleep.

Also, another new study found that a diet high in whole grain, bran and cereal fibre lowers the risk of liver cancer.

The study was published in JAMA Oncology.

But the United States (U.S.) scientists found that an increased intake of fruit or vegetable fiber did not have an effect.

Those who ate the most whole grains in their diet had a 37 percent lower risk than those whose diets were sparse of the healthy grains.

A high bran diet also reduced the risk by 30 percent while germ reduced it by 11 percent.

Added bran reduced the risk by 31 percent but added germ actually increased the risk by 22 percent.

They added whole grains; bran and cereal fiber reduces insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and inflammation – all known hallmarks of cancer.

Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Xuehong Zhang, said: “Increased intake of whole grains and possibly cereal fiber and bran could be associated with reduced risk of HCC among adults in the United States.

“Whole grains are a major source of dietary fiber and consist of bran, germ, and endosperm, compared with refined grains that contain only the endosperm.

“The whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other numerous nutrients, which are removed during the refining process.”

He added: “Consumption of whole grains and dietary fiber, especially cereal fiber, has been associated with lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which are known predisposing factors for HCC.

“In addition to improving insulin sensitivity and metabolic regulation and decreasing systemic inflammation, intake of whole grains and dietary fiber may improve gut integrity and alter gut microbiota composition, thereby leading to increased production of microbiota-related metabolites, including short-chain fatty acids, particularly butyrate.

“Gut integrity, the composition of gut microbiota, and metabolites may play an important role in the development of liver diseases, including HCC.”

So the study followed 77,241 women and 48,214 men with a mean age of 63.4 taking part in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

Their intake of whole grains, their subcomponents (bran and germ), and dietary fiber (cereal, fruit, and vegetable) were assessed every four years over an average follow-up of 24.2 years.

Those in the highest tertiles of whole grain and dietary fiber intake were slightly older, had lower Body Mass Index (BMI), exercised more, drank less, did not smoke, more likely to take aspirin and had higher intake of fruits, vegetables, total folate, multivitamin, and dietary vitamin D, but less fat compared with those in the lowest tertiles.

BMI is a measure of weight in kilogrammes/height in metres squared (Wkg/Hm2).

A total of 141 patients were diagnosed with HCC.

Zhang said: “Interestingly, compared with fruit or vegetable fiber, cereal fiber has been shown in our study and other cohort studies to be more consistently associated with lower risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

“However, our results on the association of cereal fiber with HCC risk could have been due to chance.

“Alternatively, a potential explanation is that fruits and vegetables, particularly fruit juice, contain sugar or added sugar such as fructose and sucrose, which may lead to hepatic damage and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, thereby masking the potential benefit of fruit- or vegetable-fiber intake.

“Overall, the exact reasons for such a difference remain unknown and require further investigation.”

He added while more research was needed he concluded: “If our findings are confirmed, increasing whole grain consumption may serve as a possible strategy for prevention of primary HCC.”

Meanwhile, having conducted a new study in mice, researchers now have a much better understanding of how chronic (long-term, sustained) stress can accelerate the growth of cancer stem cells. They may also have found a way to prevent stress from doing its damage.

Chronic stress, which a person has consistently over a long period of time, affects mental and emotional well being as well as physical health.

Studies have tied chronic stress to accelerated cognitive impairment, a higher risk of heart problems, and problems with gut health.

Previous research also suggests that exposure to stress could speed up the growth of cancer through its impact on gene activity.

Now, researchers from the Dalian Medical University in China — in collaboration with colleagues from across the world — have located a key mechanism, which chronic stress triggers that fuel the growth of cancer stem cells that tumors originate from.

More specifically, the researchers have studied this mechanism in mouse models of breast cancer.

Their findings — which they report in The Journal of Clinical Investigation — point the finger at the hormone epinephrine, but they also suggest a strategy to counteract the effects of stress mechanisms on cancer cells.

“You can kill all the cells you want in a tumor,” notes co-author Keith Kelley, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, “but if the stem cells, or mother cells, are not killed, then the tumor is going to grow and metastasize.”

He added: “This is one of the first studies to link chronic stress specifically with the growth of breast cancer stem cells.”

To see how stress would impact cancer cell growth in the rodents, the researchers put all the mice in small, restrictive enclosures for a week. Then, they split the mice into two groups.

They put one group into large, comfortable enclosures to discontinue the stress; these mice acted as the control group. The other group stayed in the small enclosures for another 30 days; these mice acted as the experimental group.

Cutting-edge research may bring us a better understanding about the spread of breast cancer.

Following their initial investigation, the scientists saw not only that the stressed mice exhibited changes in behavior that were indicative of depression and anxiety, but also that they had larger cancer tumors than their peers in the control group.

Also, these tumors were growing at a faster rate, and on the whole, the stressed mice also had a greater number of cancer stem cells than the other mice.

Still, at this point, it remained unclear exactly how stress contributed to the progression of cancer.

According to principal investigator Quentin Liu, from the Institute of Cancer Stem Cell at Dalian Medical University, “The direct signaling network between stress pathways and a cancer-propagating system remains almost completely unknown.”

He added: “A better understanding of the biochemistry that causes stress to increase the growth of cancer cells could lead us toward targeted drug interventions, one of which we discovered in this work.”

When they looked into how various physiological factors changed in the mice that had experienced chronic stress, the researchers closed in on a hormone called epinephrine.

The stressed mice had much higher levels of this hormone than the mice in the control group.

Also, in mice from the experimental group that had received a drug that blocked ADRB2 — which is an epinephrine receptor — cancer tumors were smaller and the numbers of cancer stem cells were also lower.

Kelley said: “When most people think of stress, they think it is cortisol that is suppressing the immune system. However, the amazing thing is cortisol was actually lower after a month of stress.”

How does epinephrine help cancer stem cells thrive? The authors explain that when this hormone binds to ADRB2, the interaction boosts levels of lactate dehydrogenase, an enzyme that normally gives muscles an “injection” of energy in a danger situation. This allows the person to either fight the threat or run away from it.

A byproduct of this energy boost is the production of an organic compound called lactate. In the case of people with cancer, the harmful cells actually feed on this compound; it allows them to acquire more energy.

This means that if a person has chronic stress, they will have too much lactate dehydrogenase in their system. This, in turn, will activate genes related to cancer growth and allow cancer cells to thrive.

“These data provide a novel pathway that explains how elevated epinephrine caused by chronic stress promotes breast cancer progression by acting directly on cancer stem cells.”

Is vitamin C the answer? Next, the researchers validated their results by studying blood epinephrine levels in 83 people with breast cancer.

Sure enough, they found that people with high blood levels of epinephrine also had excess lactate dehydrogenase in cancer tumors — which the researchers had, access to through breast cancer biopsy samples.

Also, people who had higher levels of the stress hormone were likelier to have poorer outcomes following treatment when compared with people with lower epinephrine levels.

Next, the scientists tried to see whether or not they could identify a strategy to block epinephrine’s ill effects on the system.

In laboratory tests on breast cancer cell lines, they analyzed the effects of a few Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs on lactate dehydrogenase production.

The most promising substance that the investigators settled on was actually vitamin C, which blocked actate dehydrogenase production in laboratory experiments.

When the investigators tested this approach in mouse models, they obtained the same results: Stressed mice they’d injected with vitamin C experienced tumor shrinkage.

Liu concluded: “Taken together, these findings show that vitamin C might be a novel and effective therapeutic agent for targeting cancer in patients undergoing chronic stress.”


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