From the core

Recent research out of UCLA has revealed a potential new weapon in the war against pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. The study, published in the April issue of the International Journal of Cancer, reports that a specific antioxidant compound found in apples slowed the growth and curbed the spread of pancreatic cells in mice. Of course, further studies will be required to determine if the compound can treat or prevent cancer in humans, but the results of this study take a promising first step in that direction.

Antioxidants to the rescue once again

Each year 30,000 people in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer- and for most, by the time it’s detected, there’s little that can be done. Pancreatic cancer is often considered a silent disease – hard to detect and diagnose, and nearly impossible to treat, unless it is caught very early. That’s what makes prevention efforts all the more important.

With that in mind, the UCLA researchers decided to examine the preventative effects of natural antioxidants on pancreatic cancer. They knew that quercetin, a powerful antioxidant found in apples, had shown promising cancer-fighting potential against other types of cancer. So they set out to determine how quercetin and three other food-derived compounds might impact pancreatic cancer.

Their study was divided into two phases. The first measured the effects of quercetin on pancreatic cancer in a strain of mice specially bred to have no immune system. Human pancreatic cells were introduced into the mice, and cancer cells were injected. Mice treated with quercetin survived an average of 34 percent longer than untreated mice. The quercetin effectively inhibited the spread of malignant cells and triggered apoptosis, a series of reactions that cause cancer cells to self destruct.

The second phase of their study investigated the effects of several different plant-based polyphenols on pancreatic cancer cells. Rutin, found in green tea; trans-resveratrol, found in grapes and wine; genistein, found in soybeans; and quercetin were each combined with pancreatic cancer cells in a laboratory. Except for rutin, all of the polyphenols exhibited potent cancer-fighting properties. In both phases, the researchers concluded that polyphenol antioxidants like quercetin can inhibit pancreatic cancer growth.

Apple polishing

As I said above, pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. Often, by the time symptoms occur and a diagnosis is made, the cancer has spread, and by then it is too late to treat it effectively. But there are steps you can take to avoid pancreatic cancer. In the August 29, 2001 e-Alert, I told you about research showing that modifying lifestyle factors like cigarette smoking and obesity can significantly decrease your risk of pancreatic cancer. Find possible links to pancreatic cancer.

Now it seems eating more apples, and adding more natural antioxidants into your meals, could be another important step. More research is needed before we can say definitively that quercetin and other polyphenols have therapeutic value against pancreatic cancer. But in the meantime, it certainly can’t hurt to grab a MacIntosh or Granny Smith when you’re looking for a snack. After all, we’ve heard for years that they keep the doctor away. Maybe now we know why.

Researchers Finally Uncover Possible Links to Pancreatic Cancer” e-Alert, 8/29/01
Reuters Health, April 16, 2002