Can vegetables help treat cancer? - study

Compounds found in some types of nightshade plants long used in traditional medicine could aid in the development of new cancer therapies.

Harvesting potatoes on the Salad Trail Tour in the Besor region (photo credit: DAVID TAPUACH)
Harvesting potatoes on the Salad Trail Tour in the Besor region
(photo credit: DAVID TAPUACH)

A group of substances called Solanaceae glycoalkaloids (GAs) has recently been identified as having significant anti-tumor properties. These substances are natural compounds produced by nightshade plants that have long been used in traditional medicine.

GAs show significant antitumor properties including the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth, which can ultimately result in the induction of tumor cell death, found a peer-reviewed study by the Polish Adam Mickiewicz University, published in the Frontiers journal last week.

The mechanisms of the GA action will be intensively studied in the future and researchers hope they will lead to the development of new forms of cancer therapies.

The main method of treating cancer tumors today is chemotherapy, which is based on the use of cytostatic drugs that inhibit cell division. As these drugs are not very specific, they often damage healthy, rapidly dividing cells such as the bone marrow and hair follicles as well, causing a number of side effects. Many patients undergo radiation therapy, which results in the production of free radicals that destroy the cells' DNA.

GAs are involved in many cell signaling pathways and therefore can influence cancer cells through diverse mechanisms. They have the potential to show new, less harmful ways to treat tumors because even at low concentrations, they act on different cancer cell lines.

 Cancer Immunotherapy by  NIH Image Gallery. (credit: FLICKR) Cancer Immunotherapy by NIH Image Gallery. (credit: FLICKR)

However, some studies also indicate that toxic effects due to these compounds can occur in healthy cells and more research is still needed to ensure the safety of GA drugs.

Ancient wisdom

Developing over millions of years of evolution, plants produce an enormous number of biologically active substances. That is why modern medicine sometimes turns to traditional knowledge about medicinal plants that was compiled over the centuries.

Historic descriptions of the therapeutic properties of plants can indicate the potential application of their compounds in medicine and facilitate developing effective drugs. 

Although the effects of GAs on cells have so far been intensively studied, their precise mechanisms still aren't completely understood. More research needs to be conducted to explore new, more selective, and less toxic cancer therapies and improve the effectiveness of the available treatment methods.