Green Tea Setback?
Green tea has a growing reputation as a health-promoting dietary supplement. Research in recent years has shown that it may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and several kinds of cancer, for instance. Many people use green tea to help cope with chemotherapy's side effects.
But a new study casts a bit of a pall over that reputation. Researchers writing in the journal Blood found that the key component thought to give green tea its antioxidant power in fact hindered a cancer treatment. The catechin EGCG was found to actually block a drug used to treat multiple myeloma and mantle cell lymphoma from doing its job.
The finding caught researchers at the University of Southern California off guard: When they set out to test the drug Velcade plus EGCG on mice, they anticipated that adding the green tea component would boost the drug's tumor-busting effect.
Instead, they found that Velcade bonded to the EGCG instead of to the parts of the tumor cells it has to bond to in order to be effective. EGCG rendered Velcade completely impotent against cancer.
Though ethical concerns preclude the researchers' testing to see whether the same thing would occur in humans, the team believes the mouse-study findings likely would apply to people as well.
But they haven't given up on green tea or EGCG altogether. This study was part of a larger effort called "Yin-Yang Properties of Green Tea Extract in Combination Cancer Chemotherapy: From Encouragingly Beneficial to Dangerously Detrimental." (Whew!) The team expects that EGCG combined with other drug treatments may still be useful.
The researchers' work serves as a reminder that even seemingly benign dietary supplements such as green tea can interfere with the workings of conventional medicine. Until supplements are better understood by Western science, prudence dictates that we approach them with caution -- and that we be vigilant in reporting our use of them to our physicians and pharmacists, who can be on the lookout for potentially harmful interactions.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
February 9, 2009; 7:30 AM ET
Categories: Alternative and Complementary Medicine , Cancer
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