Quercetin as an Anti-Cancer Nutrient

Quercetin is a common flavonoid found in many fruits and plants. Of the numerous studies published regarding quercetin’s anti-cancer properties, some show how quercetin in and of itself provides significant anti-cancer activity. A number of other studies show how quercetin can be combined with chemo drugs to boost their effectiveness, especially in situations of drug resistance to treatment.

The intelligence in every cell of your body is called NF-kappaB . This gene signal figures out how the cell will deal with stress, and comes up with new solutions if it has not previously seen the problem. When NF-kappaB is forced to work overtime due to an unresolved problem its gene activity runs “hot” and is typically associated with excessive inflammation. Cancer literally hijacks NF-kappaB and uses its intelligence to further the survival of cancer cells.

It is absolutely amazing that most nutrients interact differently with cancer cells and normal cells, meaning that the nutrients tend to enhance the health of normal cells while helping kill cancer cells. This is a major advantage of nutrition. If chemo drugs had this ability they wouldn’t be so toxic to healthy cells.

A detailed study with liver cancer cells1 showed that quercetin directly turned down NF-kappaB activity, thereby interfering with the hijacking process. Furthermore, quercetin directly turned on a different set of gene signals that induced cell death to the cancer cells.

Heat shock proteins are required for your cells to withstand stress. However, during the cancer hijacking heat shock proteins are used by the cancer cells to resist treatments as well as to resist your body’s own anti-cancer immune system activity.  Think of heat shock proteins like the deflector shields of the Star Trek Enterprise. A new study shows that quercetin can directly lower this heat shock protein deflector shield2 in tumor cells, making them susceptible to the immune system or other treatments.

Cigarette smoke is known to cause breast cancer.  Using new gene tools it is now possible to see how nicotine activates genes in breast cancer cells that result in this problem. Another new study shows that quercetin turns off the very gene signals3 that cigarette smoke turns on. This is especially good news for those who are exposed to secondary smoke.

Another study shows that the combination of quercetin and a commonly used chemo drug4 (Adriamycin) completely eradicated established breast cancer in an animal model – something that neither compound could do by itself. Quercetin promoted a sustained and effective immune system response against the chemo-treated tumor.

Yet another recent study evaluated the ability of quercetin to help overcome resistance5 to a similar chemo drug (daunorubicin) as mentioned in the above study.  In this case the researchers looked at one of the primary methods by which cancer cells pump the drugs back out of themselves, a reverse transport system based on P-glycoprotein. In a study with pancreatic cancer cells researchers showed that quercetin disabled this reverse transport system by blocking the production of P-glycoprotein, thus enabling the chemo drug to have a much more toxic and killing effect on the cancer cells.

Collectively, these studies show that quercetin possesses a variety of potent anti-cancer attributes and can even be combined with chemo drugs to help overcome resistance to drug treatment.

Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

Referenced Studies:

  1. ^ Quercetin Knocks Out Liver Cancer Cells  Nutr Cancer.  Granado-Serrano AB, Martín MA, Bravo L, Goya L, Ramos S.
  2. ^ Quercetin Lowers Tumor Cells Heat Shock Proteins  J Immunother.  Bae JH, Kim JY, Kim MJ, Chang SH, Park YS, Son CH, Park SJ, Chung JS, Lee EY, Kim SH, Kang CD
  3. ^ Quercetin Offsets Nicotene-Treated Brast Caancer Cells  J Agric Food Chem.  Shih YL, Liu HC, Chen CS, Hsu CH, Pan MH, Chang HW, Chang CH, Chen FC, Ho CT, Yang YY, Ho YS.
  4. ^ Quercetin and Breast Cancer Treatment  Int Immunopharmacol.  Du G, Lin H, Yang Y, Zhang S, Wu X, Wang M, Ji L, Lu L, Yu L, Han G.
  5. ^ Quercetin and Pancreatic Cancer Cells  Molecules.   Borska S, Sopel M, Chmielewska M, Zabel M, Dziegiel P.
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