Fruit extracts may help kill breast cancer cells, sparing normal cells

Peach and plum extracts may cause breast cancer cell death, according to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (2009 Jun 24;57(12):5219-26).

In a previous study, David Byrne, AgriLife Research plant breeder, and Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, MD, found that the antioxidants and phytonutrients in plums match or exceed those in blueberries, which had been considered superior to the other fruits in the same category.

In the current study, the researchers sought studied the anticancer properties of some of the high-antioxidant commercial varieties of peaches and plums. The team chose to focus on breast cancer and compared normal cells to two types of breast cancer cells, including the most aggressive type. Breast cancer cells were treated with an extract from the “Rich Lady” peach and the “Black Splendor” plum.

Researchers reported that not only did the cancerous cells die after treatments with the fruit extracts but the normal cells were not harmed in the process.

“It was a differential effect, which is what you're looking for, because in current cancer treatment with chemotherapy, the substance kills all cells, so it is really tough on the body,” said Dr. Byrne. “Here, there is a five-fold difference in the toxic intensity. You can put it at a level where it will kill the cancer cells – the very aggressive ones – and not the normal ones.”

Additional findings revealed that two specific phenolic acid components – chlorogenic and neochlorogenic – were responsible for killing the cancer cells while not affecting the normal cells. The study's authors explained that the two compounds are very common in fruits but that stone fruits such as plums and peaches have especially high levels.

“So this is very, very attractive from the point of view of being an alternative to typical chemotherapy, which kills normal cells along with cancerous ones,” said Dr. Byrne.

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