Last updated on January 27, 2018
A group of UK scientists have discovered that spicy foods can kill cancer cells.
The scientists found that capsaicin, a property in jalapeno peppers, can kill cancer cells by attacking the cell’s mitochondria – the core where the cell’s generate their energy. Capsaicin was tested on cultures of human pancreatic and lung cancer cells.
Their study found that the molecules to which capsaicin belong, vanilloids, bind themselves to proteins in the cancer cell’s mitochondria which triggers their death without harming surrounding healthy cells.
Lead researcher, Dr .Timothy Bates, explained that, “As these compounds attack the very heart of the tumour cells, we believe that we have in effect discovered a fundamental ‘Achilles heel’ for all cancers.
“The biochemistry of the mitochondria in cancer cells is very different from that in normal cells. This is an innate selective vulnerability of cancer cells.” He added that the dose of capsaicin that causes a cancer cell to die would not have the same effect on a normal, healthy cell.
Capsaicin and other vanilloids are already found in many common foods, proving they are safe to eat. This could make development of a drug containing them a much quicker and cheaper process.
Dr Bates added, “Capsaicin, for example, is already found in treatments for muscle strain and psoriasis, which raises the question of whether an adapted topical treatment could be used to treat certain types of skin cancer.
“It’s also possible that cancer patients, or those at risk of developing cancer, could be advised to eat a diet which is richer in spicy foods to help treat or prevent the disease.”
However, Josephine Querido, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, says, “This research does not suggest that eating vast quantities of chili peppers will help prevent or treat cancer.
“The experiments showed that pepper extracts killed cancer cells grown in the laboratory, but these have not yet been tested to see if they are safe and effective in humans.”
This newly found research raises the possibility that other cancer drugs could be developed to target mitochondria, and as Dr. Bates notes, will be “extremely significant” in the fight against cancer. Their findings were published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.