Oregano shown to effectively destroy prostate cancer cells

Oregano has long since been a popular seasonal herb for various pizza and pasta dishes, as well as a powerful antioxidant.  But its benefits may extend beyond just enhancing flavor and fighting bacteria: An ingredient in the spice may actually kill prostate cancer cells.

A new study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology highlights the cancer fighting effects of one of the main components of oregano called carvacrol.  While some research has been done previously on the herb’s medicinal properties, this is the first study of its kind to study the effects of carvacrol on prostate cancer.

“Oregano has been studied quite a bit,” said lead investigator Supriya Bavadekar, assistant professor of Pharmacology at Long Island University’s Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  “There are so many beneficial effects such as antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties.  There is also some literature that shows this compound has some effects against breast cancer and other cancer cells.  But nobody knows how it’s working and it hasn’t been tested on prostate cancer.”

Bavadekar’s team is still running tests on carvacrol, but preliminary reports have revealed that the compound is an extremely potent anti-cancer agent – eliminating nearly all the prostate cancer cells it was tested against.

“We used various concentrations of this drug and we were happy to see that caused complete inhibition of cell growth,” Bavadekar said.  “We did these experiments in three different time periods – 24 hours, 48 hours and 96 hours.  The drug produced almost 100 percent inhibition, but it was the most potent at the 96 hour treatment period.  We are hoping that tells us something about how it may be acting.”

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From the early reports, the team was able to deduce that carvacrol stimulated apoptosis – or “cell suicide” – in the prostate cancer cells.  While these initial results provide significant insight into oregano’s benefits, Bavadekar is hard at work trying to understand how exactly the compound triggers this programmed cell death.

“The really challenging part is to find out how this is working,” Bavadekar said.  “So it’s causing these cells to commit suicide, but how is this signal being passed on to result in apoptosis?  What are the components in the prostate cancer cells that contribute to the cells’ death?  It’s about understanding the mechanism of action.”

Figuring out why carvacrol is so effective against prostate cancer could have a significant impact on the future of cancer drugs and research.  According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men in the United States, with more than 240,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2012.

For those suffering from prostate cancer, the treatment options range from radiation treatments to surgeries – such as a radical prostatectomy.  But if Bavadekar and her team are able to develop a better knowledge of carvacrol’s anti-cancer properties, they could potentially aid in developing less intense cancer therapy treatments.

“We have to remember that this is from oregano which is considered to be a safe food component,” Bavadekar said.   “So we’re hoping this translates into a drug with lesser adverse effects in patients.  The conventional chemotherapy has all of those really horrible side effects – many of them severe. We’re thinking this compound could be used by itself or in combination with other agents.”

Bavadekar said she is optimistic about what they will uncover.  But in the meantime, the research thus far gives pizza lovers an excuse to keep ordering their favorite Italian dishes.