Three Everyday Foods Are Discovered to Be Powerful Weapons Against Prostate Cancer

Updated: Jun. 19, 2017

Apples, curry, grapes: They all contain ingredients that can starve prostate cancer cells, potentially offering a new way to fight one of the deadliest cancers men face. the early signs and taking steps to protect yourself can help you catch prostate cancer—the most common male cancer in the United States—before it turns deadly. But now scientists from the University of Texas at Austin believe they’ve made a breakthrough in treating the condition, using natural compounds found in plants.

In the new study, published in Precision Oncology, scientists began by testing 142 natural compounds found in turmeric, apple peelings and green tea, which had already been identified as effective at thwarting the growth of cancer cells. They tested these plant-based compounds on cells from mice and from humans, and identified the three most effective compounds. Then, they set out to see if combining them increased their power to thwart cancer cells.

foodParamonov Alexander/tarapong srichaiyos/Joshua Resnick/ShutterstockThe three chemicals they focused on included ursolic acid (a waxy natural chemical found in apple peelings and rosemary); curcumin (the yellow compound found in turmeric); and resveratrol (present in cinnamon, red grapes, and berries).

Stefano Tiziani, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Dell Pediatric Research Institute at UT Austin, explained the results in Science Daily: “After screening a natural compound library, we developed an unbiased look at combinations of nutrients that have a better effect on prostate cancer than existing drugs. The beauty of this study is that we were able to inhibit tumor growth in mice without toxicity.”

Why were the compounds so effective? When cells are damaged and weakened by chronic infection, inflammation from auto-immune diseases, or obesity, they’re more likely to mutate into cancerous cells. The plant-based nutrients minimize inflammation, lowering the risk of those cells becoming malignant.

Cancer cells need nutrients to help them grow. They get this from glutamine, an amino acid that is important in breaking down proteins in our diet. The plant compounds stop the cancer cells from “feeding” on glutamine, literally starving them of their nutrition.

The discovery of such powerful weapons against prostate cancer in ordinary foods is definitely a significant step. However, simply eating foods that contain these compounds is unlikely to be enough to protect you against prostate cancer. Tiziani emphasizes that they need to be concentrated in order to have a positive effect.

“These nutrients have potential anti-cancer properties and are readily available,” he says “We only need to increase concentration beyond levels found in a healthy diet for an effect on prostate cancer cells.”