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Green Tea Ingredient May Disable Cancer Cells

Feb 03, 2015

By Dean George

Wouldn’t it be great if cancer could be treated with green tea instead of chemotherapy?

That may sound like something out of a Michael Crichton novel, but scientists in a recent study believe they may have found an ingredient that kills oral cancer cells while improving the protective capabilities of healthy cells.

Dental Wire has previously reported on the oral health benefits to green tea and oolong tea, but the more recent study focused more on oxidative stress and signs of antioxidant response.

Penn State food scientists are hopeful that the recent finding could lead to treatments for oral cancer and other types of cancer.

Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health, said that the current study demonstrates that an ingredient found in green tea known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, may trigger a process in cancer cells that leads to cell death.

“EGCG is doing something to damage the mitochondria, and that mitochondria damage sets up a cycle causing more damage until the cell undergoes programmed cell death,” he said. Mitochondria are a part of cells that contribute to energy production in our bodies, in this case cancer cells.

Scientists have known from earlier studies that the EGCG compound found in green tea killed oral cancer cells without damaging healthy ones, but until now did not understand how that worked.

“It looks like EGCG causes the formation of reaction oxygen species in cancer cells,” Lambert said. The reactive oxygen generated by the green tea ingredient EGCG damages the cancer cell’s energy production, and as the mitochondria responds, it turns off its protection mechanism.

In other words, the cancer cells begin a death spiral while the healthy cells continue to function at regular strength, eventually outnumbering the cancer cells.  

The Penn State study builds on earlier research on how EGCG affects oral cancer. Lambert said that if further tests on humans and animals are successful, scientists hope to create cancer treatments that are as effective as existing treatments without the harmful side effects.

Sources:, WebMD
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