Could green tea be the future of cancer treatment?

According to Penn State food scientists, a compound in green tea may trigger a cycle that kills oral cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

This could lead to treatments for not only for oral cancer, but other types of cancer too!

How green tea kills cancer

Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) a compound found in green tea, kills oral cancer cells without harming normal cells.

“EGCG is doing something to damage the mitochondria and that mitochondrial damage sets up a cycle causing more damage and it spirals out, until the cell undergoes programmed cell death. It looks like EGCG causes the formation of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells, which damages the mitochondria, and the mitochondria responds by making more reactive oxygen species,” explained Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. The current study shows that EGCG may trigger a process in the mitochondria that leads to cell death.

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As this mitochondrial demise continues, the cancer cell also reduces the expression of anti-oxidant genes, further lowering its defences.

“So, it’s turning off its mechanism of protection at the same time that EGCG is causing this oxidative stress,” Lambert added. And in normal cells, EGCG appeared to increase the protective capabilities of the cell.

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About the study

The researchers studied normal human oral cells side-by-side with human oral cancer cells. They grew the normal and cancer cells on petri dishes and then exposed them to EGCG at concentrations typically found in the saliva after chewing green-tea chewing gum.

The researchers collected the cells to check for oxidative stress and signs of antioxidant response. “We also took a lot of pictures, so we could use fluorescent dyes that measure mitochondrial function and oxidative stress and actually see these things develop,” said Lambert.

The researchers said that a protein called sirtuin 3 (SIRT3) is critical to the process.

“It plays an important role in mitochondrial function and in anti-oxidant response in lots of tissues in the body, so the idea that EGCG might selectively affect the activity of sirtuin 3 in cancer cells – to turn it off – and in normal cells – to turn it on – is probably applicable in multiple kinds of cancers,” Lambert said.

An anti-cancer treatment without side-effects

If animal tests and human trials are successful, the researchers then hope to create anti-cancer treatments that are as effective as current treatments without the harmful side effects.

“The problem with a lot of chemotherapy drugs – especially early chemotherapy drugs – is that they really just target rapidly dividing cells, so cancer divides rapidly, but so do cells in your hair follicles and cells in your intestines, so you have a lot of side effects,” said Lambert. “But you don’t see these sorts of side effects with green tea consumption.”

Source: Penn State via

Recommended reading: Could coffee protect you from skin cancer?

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