Tea, broccoli and blueberries: new weapons against cancer

In January 2002, Dr Richard Béliveau's team came into the public eye after publishing studies in Cancer Research which showed that green tea has a proven pharmacological effect in preventing and treating tumours. “There was some data in the literature showing that the Japanese and Chinese populations, which consume a lot of green tea, had fewer cancers. These epidemiological studies intrigued us. We wanted to see what lay behind this phenomenon,” explains the head of the Molecular Medicine Laboratory in the Charles-Bruneau Cancer Research Centre at Sainte-Justine hospital, affiliated with Université de Montréal.

By testing the effects of different molecules found in green tea on cancer cell lines, the team discovered that some of them, catechins, inhibited the growth of blood vessels that nourish tumours. The research, conducted by Sylvie Lamy and Dr Denis Gingras, revealed that drinking one to two cups of green tea a day is sufficient to produce a beneficial effect.

Since this initial publication, the 48 members of Dr Béliveau’s team have turned their efforts to determining if other food might be effective against cancer. They have already found active molecules in cabbage, broccoli, soy, blueberries, tomatoes... and the search goes on. The team's discoveries are so promising that Dr Béliveau has decided to name this new branch of medicine nutratherapy. “We wanted to echo the idea of chemotherapy, which uses synthetic molecules. The research is carried out in exactly the same way, with pharmacological, epidemiological and clinical studies, but with natural molecules instead. It’s a revolutionary new concept.”

In soy, the researchers isolated a molecule named genisteine. The research demonstrated that it worked on the same principle as Gleevec or Iressa, two medicines used in the fight against the cancer. “It is amazing what you can find in food. And yet research in this field has barely started.” Since eating foods like broccoli poses no risks and involves no side effects, nutratherapy can be tested immediately on patients. In conjunction with Drs Albert Moghrabi and Stéphane Barrette of the Hematology-Oncology Department and Dr Josée Dubois of the Vascular Malformation Clinic, Dr Béliveau has already begun proposing a therapeutic diet for children undergoing clinical treatment. Tests on adults have also started at Notre-Dame Hospital and Montreal General Hospital. “Obviously this is not a replacement for conventional therapy; it’s more of an adjunct therapy. Rather than send the patient home and to tell him to eat anything he wants, we tell him to follow our diet. It can’t do any harm, that’s for sure.” In addition to looking for new foods with cytotoxic or antiangiogenic properties, Dr Béliveau’s team is working hard to determine what quantities must be consumed daily to produce a pharmacological effect. Contrary to what you might expect, large quantities are not needed. A half cup of cabbage or broccoli is probably enough.

Researcher: Richard Béliveau
Telephone: (514) 345-2366
Funding: Fondation Charles-Bruneau, Cancer Research Society


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