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Mate tea compounds kill colon cancer

U. ILLINOIS (US) — Human colon cancer cells die when exposed to the amount of bioactive ingredients in just one cup of yerba mate tea.

For an in vitro study, published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, researchers 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. The tea has been consumed for years in South America for medicinal purposes.

“The caffeine derivatives in mate tea not only induced death in human colon cancer cells, they also reduced important markers of inflammation,” says Elvira de Mejia, associate professor of food chemistry and food toxicology at the University of Illinois.

That’s important because inflammation can trigger the steps of cancer progression she says. “Put simply, the cancer cell self-destructs because its DNA has been damaged.”

The ability to induce apoptosis, or cell death, is a promising tactic for therapeutic interventions in all types of cancer.

For this study, researchers 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, de Mejia says.

“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 adds.

The results of the study strongly suggest that the caffeine derivatives in mate tea have potential as anti-cancer agents and could also be helpful in other diseases associated with inflammation.

But, because the colon and its microflora play a major role in the absorption and metabolism of caffeine-related compounds, the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects of mate tea may be most useful in the colon.

“We believe there’s ample evidence to support drinking mate tea for its bioactive benefits, especially if you have reason to be concerned about colon cancer. Mate tea bags are available in health food stores and are increasingly available in large supermarkets,” she says.

The scientists have already completed and will soon publish the results of a study that compares the development of colon cancer in rats that drank mate tea as their only source of water with a control group that drank only water.

The work was funded by the University of Illinois Research Board and Puangpraphant’s Royal Thai Government Scholarship.

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