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A Middle Eastern Herb May Offer Pancreatic Protection

The Middle Eastern herb Nigella Sativa may help stop the growth of pancreatic cancer, and possibly even inhibit the development of tumors.

The major component of the herb's oil, thymoquinone, has anti-inflammatory properties that result in lower levels of inflammatory compounds linked to pancreatic cancer.

The seed and oil of Nigella sativa have been widely used in traditional medicine in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries.  They are primarily used for the treatment of immune and inflammatory disorders.

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University compared the anti-inflammatory properties of thymoquinone with trichostatin A, a known histone deacetylases (HDACs) inhibitor previously reported to improve inflammation-associated cancers.

HDAC is a family of enzymes that may act as regulators of many diseases, including cancer, because they are involved in the control of gene regulation.

The study findings have been accepted for publication in the Oxford journal Hepatopancreatobiliary.  If further studies back up these findings, the herb extract could offer benefits to people suffering from chronic pancreatitis or those at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

In a laboratory setting, Nigella sativa extract was applied to pancreatic cancerous cells that had been pre-treated with the cytokine TNF-alpha to induce inflammation.  The herb inhibited the manifestation of the inflammation and was more effective at doing so than trichostatin A.

Additionally, animals with pancreatic cancer were treated with thymoquinone and 67% of the tumors shrank significantly.  Corresponding levels of inflammation-inducing cytokines were also reduced.

The researchers are planning to conduct a phase I clinical trial in order to test thymoquinone's effectiveness at preventing and possibly treating pancreatic cancer in humans.

Almost 38,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in the US annually, and slightly more than 34,000 deaths occur annually as a result of the disease.  Most people are diagnosed at a late stage in the disease and only 1 in every 50 will still be living five years after diagnosis.

In order to promote pancreatic health, the American Cancer Society recommends maintaining a healthy weight, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreasing consumption of red meat.  Studies have also shown than vitamins D and B can help reduce the risk of cancer.

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