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Capsaicin

Study: Hot chili pepper compound kills cancer without side effects

Thursday, January 18, 2007 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: Capsaicin, chili peppers, medicinal herbs


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(NewsTarget) -- Capsaicin -- the compound that makes chili peppers spicy -- can kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells, with no side effects, according to a new study by researchers at Nottingham University in the UK.

The study, led by Dr. Timothy Bates, found that capsaicin killed laboratory-grown lung and pancreatic cancer cells by attacking tumor cells' source of energy and triggering cell-suicide.

"This is incredibly exciting and may explain why people living in countries like Mexico and India, who traditionally eat a diet which is very spicy, tend to have lower incidences of many cancers that are prevalent in the Western world," Bates said.

"We appear to have discovered a fundamental weakness with all cancer cells. Capsaicin specifically targets cancerous cells, leading to the possibility that a drug based on it would kill tumors with few or no side effects for the patient," he said.

Bates and his research team found that when cancer cells were treated with capsaicin, the chili pepper compound attacked the tumor cells' mitochondria -- which generate ATP, the chemical that creates energy within the body. Capsaicin also bound to certain proteins within the cancer cells and triggered apoptosis -- natural cell death.

Bates noted that his team's capsaicin experiments resulted in cancer cell death without harming the healthy cells surrounding the tumors. The capsaicin compound also managed to kill both lung cancer cells -- a standard test for new cancer treatments -- and pancreatic cancer cells, which are exceptionally hard to kill.

"These results are highly significant, as pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and has a five-year survival rate of less than one percent," Bates said.

According to Josephine Querido, a cancer information officer with Cancer Research UK, Bates' study is promising and needs further research. However, since the experiment showed only that capsaicin extracts killed lab-grown cancer cells, eating large quantities of chili peppers may not yield the same results in humans.

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