Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat breast cancer, but many times cancer cells can become resistant to radiation therapy. Plant-derived natural supplement Ellagic Acid from berries, pomegranate and walnuts improves radiotherapy response in breast cancer cells at the same time being radio-protective to normal cells : a potential natural remedy for breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women globally (https://www.wcrf.org). As of January 2019, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the US alone, that includes women who are either ongoing or completed treatment. (U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics;https://www.breastcancer.org). Radiation therapy or Radiotherapy is one of the modalities of cancer treatment besides surgery and chemotherapy and is used routinely to treat the early stages of breast cancer as a localized therapy after surgery, to help lower the chance that the cancer will come back. Radiation therapy is also used when the cancer has relapsed and spread to other organs such as the brain and bones, in combination with other therapies such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
Ellagic Acid and Radiotherapy in Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy works by causing damage to the DNA of cancer cells through high energy ionizing particles. However, it also causes collateral damage to the surrounding normal, non-cancer cells, causing some unwanted and severe side-effects. Additionally, with the rapidly evolving nature of cancer cells, they are constantly rewiring their internal machinery and manage to survive the radiotherapy and become radiation resistant. To improve the odds of success of radiation therapy there has been much research on radiosensitizer compounds that when combined with radiation therapy can help achieve greater tumor damage while at the same time being radioprotective of the non-cancer cells. One such natural compound that has experimentally demonstrated this dual property of being a radiosensitizer to breast cancer cells and radioprotective to normal cells is Ellagic Acid, a phenolic compound found in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, walnuts and pomegranates.
Studies in breast cancer cells MCF-7 have shown that Ellagic Acid in combination with radiation increases cancer cell death by 50-62% while the same combination was protective in normal cells NIH3T3. The mechanism by which Ellagic Acid worked to enhance the radiation efficacy on breast cancer cells was through negatively affecting the mitochondria – the energy factories of the cells; by increasing the pro cell-death; and reducing the pro-survival factors in the cancer cell. Such studies suggest that natural compounds such as Ellagic Acid could be potentially used to “improve cancer radiotherapy by increasing tumor toxicity and reducing normal cell damage caused by irradiation.” (Ahire V. et al, Nutrition and Cancer, 2017)
In addition to the radiosensitization impact on cancer cells, a large number of scientific studies have also highlighted the many more anti-cancer properties of Ellagic Acid, from being able to stop the proliferation of cancer cells, to help induce cancer cell death called apoptosis, prevention of the spread of cancer by blocking the growth of new blood vessels and the migration and invasion of the cancer cells to other parts of the body (Ceci C et al, Nutrients, 2018; Zhang H et al, Cancer Biol Med., 2014). There are clinical trials ongoing in different cancer indications (breast cancer (NCT03482401), colorectal cancer (NCT01916239), prostate cancer (NCT03535675) and others) to validate the chemopreventive and therapeutic benefits of Ellagic Acid in cancer patients, as seen in experimental models of cancer. Despite this natural supplement being non-toxic and safe, Ellagic acid should only be used in consultation with health care specialists, since it has the potential to interact with some drugs due to inhibition of drug metabolizing enzymes in the liver. Also, selecting the right Ellagic acid dose and formulation that has an improved solubility and bioavailability is required to obtain its full therapeutic impact.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.