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Dietary supplements may modify cancer stem cells

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Aug 4, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) --We do not know whether cancer stem cells exist, but we do know that some functional foods and dietary supplements may help prevent cancer.   Modern cancer therapies including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery have a good chance to fail to stop cancer cells from growing and patients still die from cancer within five years of treatment.  Many researchers blame cancer stem cells for the recurrence or relapse of various cancers.

Evidence has yet to be found to demonstrate that cancer stem cells exist and are responsible for the cancer relapse although in reality, stem cell-like activities do exist in cancer cells after treatment and the existance of cancer stem cells can't not be ruled out at this time. 

Cancer stem cells act similarly as normal stem cells, that is, they have the properties of self-renewal and differentiation, according to Young S. Kim of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD and colleagues.

Kim et al. reported in July 2012 in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry that bioactive food components, which are available as dietary supplements, may have a capacity to suppress cancer stem cells or prevent them from self-renewal.  That explains why some functional foods may help prevent cancer in the first place, as many epidemiologic studies have suggested.

The researchers say eating inappropriate foods and their ingredients may result in the loss of regulatory molecules and promote the aberrant or uncontrolled self-renewal of cancer stem cells.

However, certain dietary components such as vitamins A and D, genistein, (−)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), sulforaphane, curcumin, piperine, theanine and choline have been demonstrated to be able to modify self-renewal properties of cancer stem cells.  Almost all these biotics are available as dietary supplements.

Kim et al. explains "The ability of these bioactive food components to influence the balance between proliferative and quiescent cells by regulating critical feedback molecules in the network including dickkopf 1 (DKK-1), secreted frizzled-related protein 2 (sFRP2), B cell-specific Moloney murine leukemia virus integration site 1 (Bmi-1) and cyclin-dependent kinase 6 (CDK6) may account for their biological response."

Food consumers may not have to wait for scientists to have a better understanding of cancer stem cells and then figure out a way to kill or suppress them so that cancer can be stopped.  What they can do immediately is follow a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet.  Numerous epidemiological and laboratory studies suggest that many foods and dietary supplements may be used to prevent cancer.

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