Could preventing colon cancer be as simple as developing a taste for yerba mate tea? In a recent University of Illinois study, scientists showed that human colon cancer cells die when they are exposed to the approximate number of bioactive compounds present in one cup of this brew, which has long been consumed in South America for its medicinal properties. "The caffeine derivatives in mate tea not only induced death in human colon cancer cells, they also reduced important markers of inflammation," said Dr. Elvira de Mejia, a University of Illinois associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology. That's important because inflammation can trigger the steps of cancer progression, she said. In the in vitro study, Dr. de Mejia and former graduate student Sirima Puangpraphant isolated, purified, and then treated human colon cancer cells with caffeoylquinic acid (CQA) derivatives from mate tea. As the scientists increased the CQA concentration, cancer cells died as a result of apoptosis. "Put simply, the cancer cell self-destructs because its DNA has been damaged," she said. The ability to induce apoptosis, or cell death, is a promising tactic for therapeutic interventions in all types of cancer, she said. Dr. de Mejia said they were able to identify the mechanism that led to cell death. Certain CQA derivatives dramatically decreased several markers of inflammation, including NF-kappa-B, which regulates many genes that affect the process through the production of important enzymes. Ultimately cancer cells died with the induction of two specific enzymes, caspase-3 and caspase-8, Dr. de Mejia said. "If we can reduce the activity of NF-kappa-B, the important marker that links inflammation and cancer, we'll be better able to control the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells," she added.
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