Breast cancer, which affects close to 3 million women in the United States, is currently second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths; according to the National Cancer Institute, the disease claimed close to 40,000 lives in 2013 alone.
Researchers are working overtime in an attempt to develop more effective therapies, but their efforts are hampered by the problem of drug-resistant cancer stem cells, which have the ability to continue to generate new tumors. In addition, the damaging and toxic effects of chemotherapy are also a serious concern – when trying to fully recover from a cancer diagnosis.
New study: ‘Spirulina cocktail’ shown to kill breast cancer cells
Some encouraging new test tube research has sounded a note of hope: a “super cocktail” composed of phytochemicals from spirulina and other natural substances may hold the key to stopping breast cancer in its tracks.
Spirulina, an edible freshwater algae used as a dietary supplement and nutraceutical, has been impressing researchers for years with its high levels of beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals. But, it is spirulina’s content of a plant pigment called phycocyanin that is now attracting scientific attention.
Unlike chemo and radiation: Natural compounds don’t destroy healthy cells
In a study conducted at Louisiana State University’s Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and published in 2013 in Journal of Cancer, researchers “auditioned” ten different beneficial organic substances from fruits, vegetables and spices before settling on a lineup of six protective phytochemical superstars. In addition to phycocyanin from spirulina platensis, the researchers utilized curcumin from turmeric, isoflavone from soybeans, indo-3-carbinole from cruciferous vegetables, resveratrol from grapes and quercetin from onions and apples to create the cocktail – all substances that are well known to natural health experts and naturopathic physicians for their chemopreventive and disease-fighting effects.
After administering the “super cocktail” to both sample cancer cells and control cells, researchers found that the mixture suppressed breast cancer cell growth by more than 80 percent, interfered with the migration and invasion process, and eventually triggered the death of all cancer cells. In fact, by the second day of the study, dead cancer cells were observed to be floating in the culture media.
Not only did the cocktail achieve a 100 percent kill rate, but it achieved this result without harming normal, healthy cells.
Phycocyanin, from spirulina, target cancer cells
Phycocyanin, along with the other protective compounds in the cocktail, is strongly anti-inflammatory and antioxidant – two properties that have been shown to combat cancer. More specifically, the cocktail was able to induce apoptosis – programmed self-destruction – of the cancer cells by up-regulating enzymes known as capsases. These enzymes are so strongly linked with apoptosis that scientists have nicknamed them “executioner proteins.”
The phytochemicals also inhibited cell adhesion molecules, which normally promote cancer’s ability to proliferate and spread. Interestingly, although the compounds were stunningly effective when used in conjunction with each other, they were not effective when tested separately against the cancer cells.
What, exactly, is phycocyanin?
Phycocyanin, the greenish-blue pigment-protein complex which gives spirulina its distinctive color, functions as an accessory pigment to chlorophyll — meaning it absorbs light and then transfers the energy to the chlorophyll. It is phycocyanin that makes it possible for spirulina to thrive in darker waters, where sunlight may be minimal. An interesting note, phycocyanin is sometimes used commercially as a coloring agent for beverages and candies.
This study was not the first research to highlight the cancer-fighting properties of spirulina. Natural health experts report that chlorophyll in spirulina binds to carcinogens, promoting their elimination from the body, and University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) cites a small clinical study in which participants who were given spirulina experienced reductions in precancerous lesions.
Of course, more high-quality studies are needed to further explore the chemoprotective effects of spirulina.
Spirulina, a whole food, contains a wealth of disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants
Spirulina, composed of a single cell, may be one of nature’s simpler constructions. But it just could be the most nutritionally complete of all nutraceutical supplements. This nutritious microscopic algae contains both orange carotenes and yellow xanthophylls, both of which have potent antioxidant effects. And it has them in impressive amounts – natural health experts tell us that beta carotene from spirulina is ten times more concentrated than carotene from carrots.
Spirulina is also rich in easily absorbable, bio-accessible iron, and high in trace minerals such as manganese – needed for production of superoxide dismutase, a natural antioxidant produced in your body – and selenium, a powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting micronutrient in its own right. Amino acids, complex carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids and lipids fill out the impressive nutritional profile.
Spirulina is also rich in antioxidant vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin K, essential for normal clotting of blood. And, finally, it is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, an immune system-boosting compound found in human breast milk.
How do I take spirulina?
Spirulina is available dried or freeze-dried, in powders, flakes and tablets, and can be found in health food stores or online. According to UMMC, the standard dose is 4 to 6 500-milligram tablets a day. Some spirulina samples have been found to contain heavy metals and toxic microcystins; so make sure you obtain your spirulina from a trusted, reputable company.
Don’t use spirulina to treat breast cancer – or any other medical condition – unless under the guidance of a doctor. A knowledgeable doctor or naturopathic physician can help tailor a regimen to your specific nutritional needs.
The latest research on spirulina and breast cancer offers hope that this wholesome, nutrient-packed supplement may play a role in defeating a dreaded disease – naturally.