Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hot Peppers May Kill Cancer

Capsaicin (pronounced: cap-say-a-sin) is the stuff that turns up the heat in jalapeños. Not only does it cause the tongue to burn, it also drives prostate cancer cells to self-destruct, according to studies published in the March 15, 2006, issue of Cancer Research.

According to a team of researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical and their colleagues from UCLA, the capsaicin in hot peppers caused human prostate cancer cells to undergo “programmed cell death”, a process otherwise known as apoptosis (pronounced: ap-op-toe-sys). Apoptosis is a natural process in many tissues that maintains a healthy balance between newer replacement cells and aged or worn out cells. In other words, the old worn out cells are naturally programmed to self-destruct. Cancer cells, on the other hand, often dodge this process by mutating the genes that participate in the process of apoptosis.

This new research showed that capsaicin induced approximately 80 percent of prostate cancer cells growing in mice to follow the molecular pathways leading to apoptosis. Moreover, prostate cancer tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of tumors in non-treated mice.
“Capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture,” said Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., visiting scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA School of Medicine. “It also dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumors formed by those human cell lines grown in mouse models.
”Lehmann estimated that the dose of pepper extract fed orally to the mice was equivalent to giving 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times a week to a 200 pound man, roughly equivalent to between three and eight fresh habañera peppers per week – depending on the pepper’s capsaicin content.
The pepper extract also curbed the growth of prostate cancer cells through regulation of androgen receptors, the steroid activated proteins that control expression of specific growth relating genes. On top of all that, the hot pepper component also reduced cancer cell production of PSA, a protein that often is produced in high quantities by prostate tumors and can signal the presence of prostate cancer in men. PSA is regulated by androgens, and capsaicin limited androgen-induced increases of PSA in the cancer cell lines.
Habañeras are the highest rated pepper for capsaicin content according to the Scoville heat index. Habañera peppers, which are native to the Yucatan, typically contain up to 300,000 Scoville units. The more popular Jalapeño variety from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the southwest United States, contains 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units.