A compound contained in green tea may start a cycle that destroys cancer cells. Aside from that, this cycle does not seem to affect normal healthy cells, according to a Penn State study.
This compound called EGCg (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is a polyphenol which the researchers found to cause apoptosis (a cell suicide process) in oral cancer cells, eventually killing them.
“EGCg is doing something to damage the mitochondria and that mitochondrial damage sets up a cycle causing more damage and it spirals out, until the cell undergoes programmed cell death,” said Josh Lambert, associate professor of food science and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. “It looks like EGCg causes the formation of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells, which damages the mitochondria, and the mitochondria responds by making more reactive oxygen species.”
Interestingly, EGCg did not trigger this cycle on healthy cells. Instead, it appears that it increased the cells’ protective capabilities.
The researchers grew normal cells and oral cancer cells on petri dishes and introduced EGCg to each group of cells to see how the green tea compound affects them. They gathered data on oxidative stress and how the cells respond to antioxidants.
They found that sirtuin 3, a protein, plays a big role in the process. Sirtuin 3 is important in antioxidant activity in the body and helps with the function of the mitochondria (the cell’s power plant). EGCg appears to turn off sirtuin 3 in oral cancer cells and turn them on normal cells.
This finding may be relevant to other cancers as well.
Source: Ling Tao, Jong-Yung Park, Joshua D. Lambert. Differential pro-oxidative effects of the green tea polyphenol, (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, in normal and oral cancer cells are related to differences in sirtuin 3 signaling. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201400485
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