Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mistletoe: A Kiss-Off to Cancer?

Laboratory glassware findings only

Mistletoe — the cheery kiss-inducing Christmas plant — contains a natural compound that has been found to have potent anti-cancer properties.  Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia have determined the extract of mistletoe could either assist chemotherapy or act as an alternative to drugs as a treatment for colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the Western world.

Mistletoe extract is now used as an alternative colon cancer therapy in some parts of Europe, but lack of scientific testing has kept it off the market in Australia and the United States. That new research, led by Zahra Lotfollahi, could change that.

For the study, Lotfollahi and colleagues compared the effectiveness of three types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells and healthy intestinal cells.  In laboratory studies, she found that one of the mistletoe extracts — from a species known as Fraxini, which grows on ash trees — was more effective than chemotherapy against colon cancer cells and yet was not as harmful to healthy intestinal cells as conventional chemo. The lab tests also found the extract boosted the anti-cancer properties of the drugs.

"This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells,” said Lotfollahi. “This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as [ulcers in the mouth] and hair loss.

"Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells. At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells.”

Gordon Howarth, University of Adelaide professor and Cancer Council researcher, said more studies are needed before the mistletoe extract could be refined for use in cancer care.

"This is just the first important step in what we hope will lead to further research, and eventually clinical trials, of mistletoe extract in Australia," Howarth said.


Study: Beer is good for you, has anti-virus powers

Says Japanese brewer

Consuming large quantities of a key ingredient in beer can protect against winter sniffles and even some serious illnesses in small children, a Japanese brewery said citing a scientific study.

A chemical compound in hops, the plant brewers use to give beer its bitter taste, provides an effective guard against a virus that can cause severe forms of pneumonia and bronchitis in youngsters, Sapporo Breweries said Wednesday.

In research with scientists at Sapporo Medical University, the compound — humulone — was found to be effective in curbing the respiratory syncytial (RS) virus, said the company, which funded the study.

“The RS virus can cause serious pneumonia and breathing difficulties for infants and toddlers, but no vaccination is available at the moment to contain it,” said Jun Fuchimoto, a researcher from the company.

The virus tends to spread in winter and can also cause cold-like symptoms in adults.

Fuchimoto said such small quantities of humulone were present in beer that someone would have to drink around 30 cans, each of 350 millilitres (12 oz), for it to have any virus-fighting effect.

“We are now studying the feasibility of applying humulone to food or non-alcoholic products,” he said. “The challenge really is that the bitter taste is going to be difficult for children.”

The research also found that humulone alleviated inflammation caused by infection from the virus, the brewery said.


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