Tasty treat may have hidden health benefit: Liquorice slows skins cancer cells
Scientists hope tumor-busting compound can be developed into new drug
The tasty treat, liquorice has been known to be good for lowering blood pressure as well as aiding in digestion. Now, scientists think the candy may hold the key to beating the most lethal form of skin cancer.
Liquorice had been previously found to contain the anti-cancer chemical called glycyrrhizin. Attempts to turn it into a medicine have been hampered due to the fact that long-term consumption of glycyrrhizin can cause high blood pressure - even swelling on the brain.
University of Minnesota researchers have now found another ingredient, called Isoangustone A which has the same benefits, but without the dangerous side-effects.
Malignant remains the third most common cancer in people aged 15 to 39. Over-exposure to the sun's rays in the search of a perfect tan is the largest contributing factor. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a 24 percent increase in cases.
Scientific evidence has suggested that even a few early bouts of sunburn in childhood can be enough to trigger the cellular changes in moles that lead to skin cancer later in life. Cells within moles become cancerous and start to divide, spreading through the entire body.
The disease has had a very high death rate due to the fact that the cancer has often spread by the time patients seek help. New drugs have emerged that appear to halt the spread of tumors by "resetting" the immune system so that it is able to attack malignant cells.
Scientists extracted Isoangustone A from liquorice root and applied it to skin cancer cells in the laboratory. The compound slowed down the rate at which melanoma cells reproduce, by partially blocking the release of certain proteins needed for them to flourish.
When the scientists gave the extract to lab mice with skin cancer, the compound had the same effect - suppressing growth of the tumor.
Liquorice is already a popular remedy for cold sores and a balm made from the root can reduce the severity of outbreaks.
However - too much liquorice can be harmful. A Scottish study found children born to women who ate over 100 grams a week during pregnancy performed worse in intelligence tests at school and the harmful compound glycyrrhizin was blamed.
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