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Mechanism Behind Green Tea's Cancer-Fighting Potential Revealed

Jun 02, 2014 04:42 PM EDT

Green tea and its extracts have been referenced as potential treatments for cancer, as well as for other diseases, but scientists have struggled to explain the biological mechanism behind their effects.

A study recently published by the journal Metabolomics offers an explanation that researchers say could open a new area of cancer-fighting research.

The study reports that EGCG, the active ingredient in green tea, changed the metabolism of pancreatic cancer cells by suppressing the expression of an enzyme associated with cancer, LDHA.

"Scientists had believed they needed a molecular mechanism to treat cancer, but this study shows that they can change the metabolic system and have an impact on cancer," Dr. Wai-Nang Lee, corresponding author of the study and a Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) lead researcher, said in a statement.

"By explaining how green tea's active component could prevent cancer, this study will open the door to a whole new area of cancer research and help us understand how other foods can prevent cancer or slow the growth of cancerous cells."

Researchers found that EGCG disrupted the balance of "flux" throughout the cellular metabolic network - the rate of turnover of molecules through a metabolic pathway. It behaved much in the same way as an enzyme inhibitor, oxamate, which is known to reduce LDHA activity.

Based on their findings, they concluded that both EGCG and oxamate reduced the risk of cancer by suppressing the activity of LDHA, a critical enzyme in cancer metabolism, thereby disrupting the balance in the cancer cells metabolic functions.

"This is an entirely new way of looking at metabolism," Lee concluded. "It is no longer a case of glucose goes in and energy comes out. Now we understand how cancer cell metabolism can be disrupted, and we can examine how we can use this knowledge to try to alter the course of cancer or prevent cancer."

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