Green tea has been consumed in China for 4,000 years, and one of its compounds may be the key to preventing cancer, according to compelling new research.
It activates a gene called p53, which has been shown to block tumor development.
Known as the “guardian of the genome” for its ability to repair DNA damage and destroy cancer cells, p53 is classified as a tumor suppressor, and if a person inherits only one working copy of the p53 gene from their parents, they are predisposed to disease.
A new study published this month in Communications from nature shows that an antioxidant found in traditional Chinese drink can increase p53 levels and improve its efficiency, say scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
Studying the direct interaction between p53 and the green tea compound, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), offers hope that a new drug can be created to mimic it.
“Mutations in p53 are found in more than 50% of human cancers”, said the article’s author, Professor Chunyu Wang, who called it “possibly the most important protein in human cancer.”
A state-of-the-art scanning technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed that EGCG protects the ‘N-terminal domain’ of the cell structure from degradation.
EGCG is a natural antioxidant, which means that it helps to undo the almost constant damage caused by oxygen metabolism. Found in abundance in green tea, EGCG is also packaged by many companies such as a herbal supplement.
Wang’s team identified the specific mechanism, the beneficial interaction between EGCG and p53, for the first time. “When EGCG binds with p53, the protein is not degraded … so the level of p53 will increase with direct interaction.”
“That means there is more p53 for anticancer function.”
When functioning at full capacity, p53 activates DNA repair mechanisms and prevents cells with damaged DNA from dividing. If the DNA damage is irreparable, p53 induces the cell to destroy itself by undergoing apoptosis or programmed cell death.
Since it is commonly inactivated in human cancers, reactivating the protein could provide a powerful way to treat the disease in the future.
The findings also shed new light on the benefits of green tea, which has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and heart attacks. A study of more than 100,000 older Chinese found that those who drank at least three cups of green tea a week were 25 percent less likely to die for the next seven years.
“By developing an understanding of the molecular-level mechanisms that control key biochemical interactions linked to devastating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, Chunyu’s research is laying the foundation for new and successful therapies,” said Curt Breneman, Dean. from the Rensselaer School of Sciences.
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