Popeye had the right idea: Favourite snack of cartoon strongman could cut colon cancerResearchers have found diet and healthy life style can sometimes help restore normal cell function



13:44 GMT, 21 June 2012

Popeye eating spinach

Popeye eating spinach

Popeye the Sailor Man had the right idea when he guzzled cans of spinach. Because the cartoon character's favourite food doesn't just give you iron – it could also reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Researchers at Oregon State University found eating the green leafy vegetable reduced the damaging effects of a carcinogen found in cooked meat.

They were studying the complex biological effects of the cancer-causing substance on microRNA and cancer stem cells.

During their animal study they found that the consumption of spinach could partially offset the damaging effects of the carcinogen. In tests with laboratory animals, it cut the incidence of colon tumors almost in half, from 58 per cent to 32 per cent.

'Cancer development is a complex, multi-step process, with damaged cells arising through various means,' said researcher Mansi Parasramka.

'This study showed that alterations of microRNAs affect cancer stem cell markers in colon cancer formation.

'MicroRNAs are very small factors that do very big things in cells,' she said.

Traditionally, cancer was thought to be caused by changes in DNA sequence, or mutations, that allowed for uncontrolled cell growth. That’s still true.

However, there’s also increasing interest in the role played by epigenetics, in which such factors as diet, environmental toxins, and lifestyle affect the expression of genes – not just in cancer, but also cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurological disorders.

Included in this epigenetic equation is the formation of microRNAs – once thought to be 'junk DNA' – which researchers were at a loss to understand. It’s now known that they influence which areas of DNA get expressed or silenced.

There are hundreds of microRNAs, and the OSU scientists monitored 679 in their experiments. When they don’t work right, problems can occur, including abnormal gene expression leading to cancer.

Professor Rod Dashwood said: 'Unlike mutations which are permanent genetic changes in DNA, the good news about epigenetics and microRNA alterations is that we may be able to restore normal cell function, via diet and healthy life style choices, or even drug treatments.'

Epigenetics essentially makes every person biologically unique, Dashwood said, a product of both their genetics and their environment. That includes even identical twins.

The findings of the new study should lead to advances in understanding microRNAs, their effects on cancer stem cells, and the regulatory processes disrupted in disease development, the OSU scientists said.

This might lead one day to tailored or “patient specific” therapies for cancer, Dashwood said.

The research at OSU’s Linus Pauling
Institute was recently reported in the journal Molecular Nutrition and
Food Research, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health.