When your doctor diagnoses you with cancer, it is inevitable that the course of action he’ll recommend would be the gold standard mainstream ‘scorched earth’ approach – cut the tumour out (along with a ‘buffer zone’ surrounding it), prescribing powerful drugs to poison any remaining cancer cells, and zap what’s left with toxic radiation.
But the problem, as I’ve shared with you right here in Nutrition & Healing and in my Health eTips, is that those cancer treatments destroy everything in their path – the ‘good’ cells with the ‘bad’ cells. And that’s why so many cancer patients don’t succumb to their actual cancer – but to their treatments. They end up so weakened by this aggressive approach… and their immune systems take such a beating… that even the strongest can’t always survive it.
But what if there were an easy way to potentially tell cancer cells from normal cells? What if all cancer cells had something in common… a hidden vulnerability… that we could zero in on without destroying everything else that stands in the way? What if we could find the one thing that could kill cancer cells and render them harmless – and what if that thing happened to be entirely harmless and natural?
Imagine being able to prevent cancer, simply by eating foods that are part of a healthy and organic diet! I know this sound like a fairy tale – but it’s true. And now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you about a remarkable group of substances called salvestrols.
Exposing cancer’s poker face
The term ‘salvestrols’ refers to a group of compounds that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables – and in order to understand their effects on cancer, you’ve got to understand a little bit about cancer biochemistry. I’m specifically talking about enzymes.
Now, as you may recall, enzymes are the naturallyoccurring chemicals that create certain reactions in living things. Enzymes are considered the ‘catalyst’ for those reactions – and, without them, those reactions wouldn’t occur. So, needless to say, enzymes are absolutely necessary for many of our biochemical processes and mechanisms!
All living things – plants and animals – have a set of enzymes known as cytochrome p450. In fact, a staggering number of cytochrome p450 enzymes have been identified throughout nature – in all, around 3,800 of them found in humans, animals, fish, plants, fungi, bacteria, etc.
We’ve identified at least 57 different cytochrome p450 enzymes in humans alone – and each one is responsible for detoxifying different types of substances. They help the liver clear out everything from chemicals and toxins that we are exposed to from the environment… to hormones used internally… to products of metabolism within the cells.
So, what does this have to do with cancer?
Well, a researcher named Dr. Dan Burke was studying the cytochrome p450 system a number of years ago, and he discovered something remarkable: a p450 enzyme called cytochrome 1B1, or CYP1B1, in the cells of an uncommon type of cancer called soft tissue sarcoma.
There are so many different p450 enzymes that this discovery is not remarkable on its own. But what IS pretty astounding is that CYP1B1 was discovered in cancer cells and only cancer cells.
No non-cancerous cell contained CYP1B1. Now, researchers have found CYP1B1 in cells of multiple types of cancers – including brain, oesophagus, lung, breast, prostate, colon, and others.
And furthermore, it’s found throughout the entire life cycle of cancer cells – from pre-cancerous dysplasia to primary cancers and metastatic lesions. And the best part? It’s still shown to be totally absent from any normal, non-cancerous cells.
If there were a way of detecting CYP1B1 in living, breathing humans, it would mean that we could have a test for whether there is any cancer in the body – any cancer cell at all – before it
manifests as a tumour. It would make it possible to detect cancer in the body earlier than ever – before you experience any symptoms or show enough changes in your blood chemistry to make it visible via screenings. And that’s what researchers are looking for right now – meaning a test like this could actually be available in the future.
Will it use its powers for good… or for evil?
But the science behind this discovery is about more than just finding the cancer cells that may be hiding out in your body at a very early stage – although, as we know, early detection is essential to ensuring survival from cancer.
Because if we could understand why this particular enzyme exists in cancer cells, it might lead us to discover how best to eradicate cancer. And it turns out that scientists are making progress there, too. Based on what they’ve found, it sounds like CYP1B1 is expressed by cancer cells for two main reasons: to promote carcinogens and suppress cancer-killers.
I know, that sounds like some pretty bad news – but stick with me.
First, research has shown that CYP1B1 facilitates the conversion of an oestrogen, called oestradiol, to a pro-cancer metabolite, 4-hydroxyestradiol. In smokers, CYP1B1 has the capacity to convert chemicals in tobacco smoke into carcinogens.
Secondly, CYP1B1 may actually be expressed by the cancer cells to protect them from anti-cancer agents. As researchers have discovered, CYP1B1 actually metabolizes and inactivates chemotherapy, including commonly used drugs such as Mitoxantrone and Tamoxifen.
So, that appears to be why this type of enzyme exists in cancer cells: to promote their growth and proliferation and to ensure their survival. But that’s not to say that’s all CYP1B1 can do.
It turns out that there may be other potential mechanisms that we can harness to turn this ‘bad guy’ enzyme into a cancer-fighting superhero. In fact, CYP1B1 may actually be a ‘rescue enzyme’ to protect us from cancers – but it only works that way as long as we eat healthy foods!
Trick cancer cells into dying off
Professor Gerry Potter of De Montfort University in Leicester, England was studying inhibitors of p450 enzymes when he was presented with the CYP1B1 dilemma. As a result of refocusing on this one p450 enzyme and its relation to cancer, he developed a drug called Stilserene.
Amazingly, the CYP1B1 enzyme system metabolized Stilserene into a substance that created apoptosis (programmed cell death) within the cancer
cell itself. As you know, that’s the problem with cancer cells – they don’t live and die by the same life cycles as ‘regular’ cells! And finding something that can kill cancer cells (or make them kill themselves off in the natural process of cell suicide) and only cancer cells has been the ‘holy grail’ of cancer research for along time.
But that’s exactly what happened with Stilserene – it showed no side effects or toxicity to normal cells. In fact, Stilserene turned out to be 4,304 times as toxic to cancer cells as to regular cells.
To put this into perspective, regular chemotherapy agents are, at most, twice as toxic to cancer cells as to regular cells. That means that, in order to be toxic enough to eradicate cancer,
they’ve still got to be pretty toxic to your healthy cells and tissues. Eureka!
Stilserene has now been licensed to a pharmaceutical company and is in trials – but you know what happens when Big Pharma gets its hands on something that could actually be helpful. It focuses more on what might make the drug profitable… and that often transforms something that could have been beneficial into something harmful! Fortunately, that’s not the end of this story – because Dr Potter and others then turned their attention to whether there might be food-based compounds that have the same effect on cancer cells.
Why not? There are so many miraculous natural cures out there already… and so many more just waiting to be discovered. All it takes is the right person to ask the right questions and put the exotic plants found around the world to the test.
A harvest of healing plant compounds
Right from the very beginning, there was one compound that seemed to be a very good candidate to be the missing piece in this enzymatic puzzle: resveratrol. A component of
some fruits and vegetables (including the skins of red grapes, hence the red wine drinking craze of late), it had already shown some anti-cancer properties in studies. To boot, resveratrol is similar to Stilserene in chemical structure.
But could CYP1B1 actually metabolize this natural compound (a staple of any heathy, nutrient-rich diet) into a cancer-killing one? Sure enough, in 2002, Dr. Potter and others published a paper that declared that CYP1B1 does, in fact, convert resveratrol into an active anti-cancer substance – called piceatannol –
within the cancer cell itself! There was one problem, though: At higher doses, resveratrol suppressed CYP1B1, thereby undercutting its own effect. That led researchers to scour the globe for information about fruits, berries, herbs, and vegetables, looking for other compounds with similar properties to resveratrol that might work even better. (These were scientists after my own heart!)
So far, they’ve identified over 20 food-based compounds, all of which share the same characteristic: They are transformed by CYP1B1 into metabolites that have anticancer properties.
Other than that, they’re actually quite different from one another! Some are antioxidants… others are polyphenols or phytoestrogens… and some fall into more than one category. But they ALL belong to a group of natural substances called ‘phytoalexins’, or substances that protect the cells from outside pathogens.
Dr. Potter named the substances ‘salvestrols’, the name coming from salvia, the Latin word that means ‘to heal’. If you’re interested in learning more about this story (there’s too much to cover here in one newsletter issue), you can find all this and more in Salvestrols: Nature’s Defence Against Cancer: Linking Diet and Cancer, a book written by Oxford-educated researcher Brian A. Schaefer.
‘Healthy’ foods aren’t as healthful as they used to be
And so, a diet rich in fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and herbs provides a good start towards using food to fight cancer with a weapon that’s safe, effective, free of side effects,
and delicious. Sadly, our modern society puts a lot of obstacles in the way of eating high amounts of salvestrols (and other healthful substances as well).
We know that the nutrient loads of many vegetables are much lower than they were a generation ago – the result of poor treatment of agricultural land, over-planting, chemical fertilizers, and changing climate.
And all of these factors affect the production of salvestrols within our food supply as well. Then, there are also the pesticides and other chemicals that are so widely used. They’re not only toxic on their own, but they also suppress the expression of salvestrols within the produce being grown!
Another issue is that many times, modern technology dictates the harvesting of foods before they are ripened – before they have developed a full complement of salvestrols. You see, the ripening of fruits and vegetables tends to boost salvestrol production, so those that are in a complete state of ripening will have higher amounts.
The ‘younger’ the produce you eat… the less salvestrols you’ll get. Then, there’s the matter of taste. Salvestrols tend to be more bitter than the modern palate desires. So, everyone involved in the ‘farm-to-table’ process – farmers, grocery chains, and cooks – tends to cut off and toss the areas of the produce that are more bitter and less sweet, thereby cutting off your supply of salvestrols.
Even in wines, the pulpy skin layer of the wines – where the resveratrol and other good substances lie – is frequently filtered out before the wine is presented for imbibing.
In terms of quantities, it has been estimated that 12mg of salvestrols are necessary for good cancer-preventing activity. A diet using modern produce from non-organic sources, harvested before they ripen fully and shipped through distances before being put on the table, may contain as little as 2mg (or even less).
That’s why I frequently use salvestrols as a supplement in capsule form – at least to ensure that my patients are getting an adequate amount of them into their digestive tract, even if they’re not the freshest and most biologically active form available.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.