A new study has found that capsaicin, the pungent peppermint compound, can successfully stop the metastasis of lung cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is "by far the leading cause of cancer death among men and women" in the United States. The Society also estimates that 228,150 people will develop lung cancer and 142,670 people will die of the disease in 2019. Most deaths occur as a result of cancer metastasis, or dissemination, to distant parts of the body.
New research suggests that there may be a nutritional compound that can prevent this metastatic process. Capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives pepper its pungent flavor, has disrupted the metastasis of lung cancer in rodents and has cultivated human cell lines.
Piyali Dasgupta, PhD, of Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington, WV, is the senior researcher of the new study. Jamie Friedman, a doctoral researcher at Dasgupta's laboratory, is the first author of the article. Friedman and his colleagues presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Investigative Pathology in Orlando, FL.
How Capsaicin Works Against Cancer
The researchers tested capsaicin on three non-small cell lung cancer cell culture lines and found that capsaicin stopped the first stage of metastasis, which is called "invasion."
Friedman and colleagues also fed rats with lung cancer on a capsaicin-enhanced diet and found that these rodents had a much smaller number of metastatic cancer cells in their lungs compared to mice that did not receive the treatments.
Other cell experiments have found that capsaicin has stopped metastasis in lung cancer by blocking the activation of Src protein – a protein that is instrumental in regulating cell proliferation, survival and motility. Friedman and his colleagues conclude:
Our results show that capsaicin interacts directly with Src and inhibits Src activation to suppress metastasis of [lung cancer]. The results of our studies may encourage the development of new anti-metastatic therapies for [lung cancer]"
However, the researchers also note that they need to develop capsaicin analogs that would bypass their side effects.
"We hope that one day capsaicin can be used in combination with other chemotherapeutics to treat a variety of lung cancers," says Friedman. "However, the clinical use of capsaicin will require overcoming its unpleasant side effects, which include gastrointestinal irritation, stomach cramps and burning sensation."
"Lung cancer and other cancers commonly metastasize to secondary sites such as the brain, liver or bone, making them difficult to treat," adds Friedman. "Our study suggests that the natural compound capsaicin from pepper may represent a new therapy to combat metastasis in patients with lung cancer."
This is not the first study to welcome the potential health benefits of capsaicin. Previous research has found that the compound may inhibit the development of triple-negative breast cancer cells and other studies suggest that it may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Finally, previous research has also suggested that the compound may extend our lifespan.
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