UI research on vegetables shows promise for pancreatic cancer

UI research on vegetables shows promise for pancreatic cancer

CHAMPAIGN — Two flavonoids found in celery, artichokes and herbs may offer some promise as a future treatment for the often deadly pancreatic cancer.

University of Illinois researchers found in lab studies that the flavonoids apigenin and luteolin in artichokes, celery and herbs, especially Mexican oregano, killed pancreatic cancer cells by inhibiting a key enzyme.

Flavonoids are a large group of health-boosting compounds found in fruits and vegetables.

Elvira de Mejia, a UI food chemistry and toxicology professor and co-author of the study, said applying apigenin alone was enough to kill pancreatic cancer cells. But using it as a pre-treatment before chemotherapy worked even better.

The best results came from pre-treating cancer cells with apigenin for 24 hours, then applying a chemotherapy drug for 36 hours, she said.

Applying chemotherapy and flavonoids the same day could result in the two drugs working against each other, de Mejia said. Flavonoids function as antioxidents, and one way chemotherapy drugs target cancer cells is through the use of pro-oxident agents, she said.

Using the flavonoids for cancer treatment would require putting concentrated forms in drugs, de Mejia said. People with pancreatic cancer wouldn't be able to eat enough flavonoid-loaded foods to kill cancer cells, she said, but people can reduce their cancer risk with a healthful diet.

"Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables will always help you avoid cancer," she said.

De Mejia also advises lowering intake of red, processed and smoked meats and avoiding deep-fried foods to avoid disease risk.

Pancreatic cancer often comes with a poor outlook because it's found too late.

About 45,200 people are expected to get pancreatic cancer this year and 38,460 people are expected to die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is one in 78, but rates have been slowly increasing over the past decade.

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