Researchers from University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
found celery, artichokes, and herbs, especially Mexican oregano, contain apigenin and luteolin that might be used to treat pancreatic cancer.
The finding also highlights how important diet is for keeping devastating diseases at bay.
The flavonoid apigenin in the foods was applied to cancer cells 24-hours before introducing the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine .
The combination of pre-treatment followed by chemotherapy killed two forms of aggressive pancreatic cancer cells.
"Apigenin alone induced cell death in two aggressive human pancreatic cancer cell lines. But we received the best results when we pre-treated cancer cells with apigenin for 24 hours, then applied the chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine for 36 hours," said Elvira de Mejia, a U of I professor of food chemistry and food toxicology in a press release.
Antioxidants at the wrong time could thwart cancer treatment
Jodee Johnson, a doctoral student in de Mejia's lab at the time of the study explains the trick is to expose pancreatic cancer cells to the celery, artichoke or Mexican herb flavonoid before the chemotherapy drug is used.
Because chemotherapy drugs induce oxidation to kill cancer cells, Johnson says there is a suggestion that taking antioxidants the day of chemotherapy could thwart treatment because they compete with one another.
The five-year survival rate for the aggressive disease is just six-percent, making it important to find ways to extend survival, Johnson adds.
Pancreatic cancer has few symptoms until it is in its advanced stages.
Apigenin destroys cancer without chemotherapy too
In one of the lab experiments cancer cell death or aptosis went from 8.4 percent to 43.8 percent in cells that had only been treated with the flavonoid.
The study authors also found the compound in the foods changed genes from being highly inflammatory to more regulated.
The findings is published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research and is the first to show apigenin found in artichokes, celery, oregano, parsley and other spices has anti-pancreatic cancer properties.
Eating the right foods can help stave off cancer, while others, such as processed meats are linked to pancreatic cancer in particular.
One of the problems for anyone dealing with pancreatic cancer is that it would be difficult to eat enough of the foods to get the level of flavonoids to a therapeutic level.
The good news is "If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables throughout your life, you'll have chronic exposure to these bioactive flavonoids, which would certainly help to reduce the risk of cancer," de Mejia said.
authors concluded: "Flavonoids have a protective role in pancreatic cancer tumorigenesis." The finding lends support to past studies focused on the importance of healthy food consumption throughout life for disease prevention