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More than 40 natural substances can slow the spread of cancer

30 August, 2012

Natural Health News — More than 40 plant-based compounds can turn on genes that slow the spread of cancer, according to a first-of-its-kind study.

Gary Meadows, Washington State University professor and associate dean for graduate education and scholarship in the College of Pharmacy, says he is encouraged by the findings of his comprehensive review because the spread of cancer is most often what makes the disease fatal. Moreover, it shows that diet, nutrients and plant-based chemicals appear to be opening many avenues of attack.

“We’re always looking for a magic bullet,” he says. “Well, there are lots of magic bullets out there in what we eat and associated with our lifestyle. We just need to take advantage of those.”

Moreover, he says, many of these natural substances work together effectively.

The starting point for the review, published online in the journal Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, was simple logic. Most research focuses on the prevention of cancer or the treatment of the original cancer tumour, but it’s usually the cancer’s spread to nearby organs that is fatal. So rather than attack the tumour, Meadows reasoned, why not control its spread, or metastasis?

The study focused, in particular, on genes that suppress metastasis. His initial search through medical databases such as PubMed took him down many a wormhole because the concept of nutrients and metastasis suppressor genes is rarely identified by journals. It’s even an afterthought of some of the researchers who find such genes.

According to Meadows most researchers goals are not focused on what stops cancer spreading. Instead they focus primarily on finding novel genes that cause cancer to spread.

Evidence of benefits hidden – and not followed up

An in-depth look at the original paper was required to see when metastasis suppressor genes were on or off – in many papers it what stopped metastasis was a footnote rather than a main conclusion. In the end, he documented dozens of substances affecting the metastasis suppressor genes of numerous cancers.

What he found was documentation that substances like amino acids, vitamin D, ethanol, ginseng extract, the tomato carotenoid lycopene, the turmeric component curcumin, pomegranate juice, fish oil and others affecting gene expression in breast, colorectal, prostate, skin, lung and other cancers.

Typically, the substances acted epigenetically, which is to say they acted from outside the gene to turn metastasis suppressor genes on or off.

“So these epigenetic mechanisms are influenced by what you eat,” he says. “That may also be related to how the metastasis suppressor genes are being regulated. That’s a very new area of research that has largely not been very well explored in terms of diet and nutrition.”

Meadows says his review reinforces two key concepts.

First, he has a greater appreciation of the role of natural compounds in helping our bodies slow or stop the spread of cancer. The number of studies connecting nutrients and metastasis suppressor genes by accident suggests a need for more deliberate research into the genes, he says.

“And many of these effects have not been followed up on,” he says. “There’s likely to be more compounds out there, more constituents that people haven’t even evaluated yet.”

He also sees these studies playing an important role in the shift from preventing cancer to living with it and keeping it from spreading.

“We’ve kind of focused on the cancer for a long time,” he says. “More recently we’ve started to focus on the cancer in its environment. And the environment, your whole body as an environment, is really important in whether or not that cancer will spread.”