Vitamin E in nuts, seeds blocks cancer cell growth

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, December 15, 2004 (ENS): The form of vitamin E found in sesame seeds, walnuts and pecans - but not in most manufactured nutritional supplements - might halt the growth of prostate and lung cancer cells, researchers at Purdue University have found.
A team led by Qing Jiang has found that gamma-tocopherol, which occurs naturally in walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, and in corn and sesame oils, inhibits the proliferation of human prostate and lung cancer cells cultured in a lab.

The vitamin's presence interrupts the synthesis of fatty molecules called sphingolipids, which are components of cell membranes. Healthy human prostate cells are unaffected.

"This is the first time gamma-tocopherol has been shown to induce death in lab-grown human cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone," said Jiang, who is an assistant professor of foods and nutrition in the College of Consumer and Family Sciences.

"This could be wonderful news for cancer patients if the effect can be reproduced in animal models. But because most nutritional supplements contain only alpha-tocopherol, a different form of vitamin E that alone does not have these anticancer properties, it may be better to supplement the diet with mixed forms of vitamin E. The study shows that the anticancer effect is enhanced when mixed forms are used."

Jiang's research appears in the current online edition of the scientific journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." It was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Jiang said the next step for her research team will be testing the effect of gamma-tocopherol and mixed forms of vitamin E on animal cancers.

"Although this discovery is promising, we do not yet know whether gamma-tocopherol has any effect on cancer in living creatures," she said. "We hope that future research not only will clarify whether gamma-tocopherol could have applications in human cancer treatment, but also will show how we might supplement the body with the vitamin to prevent cancer from developing in the first place."

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