One of the very real problems that oncologists have when treating patients with chemotherapy is something called multi-drug resistance. That means that, even though at first the cancer cells are killed by the drugs, after a while they become immune to them. This happens in many cancers. And it's due to several different proteins that cancers make that leap to multi-drug resistance. Now a new study is showing that at least in breast cancers there might be a very simple and safe way to stop cancers from making these proteins. If true, this would lead to much better results especially in patients with metastatic cancers.
The researchers were focusing on breast-cancer-resistance protein (BCRP). BCRP is a newly discovered protein that leads to multi-drug resistance. To do the study, they specifically worked with 20 naturally occurring flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of polyphenolic compounds widely present in different foods and herbal products. The reason they picked on flavonoids was that previous studies showed that flavonoids can inhibit a cancer protein known as P-glycoprotein, which like BCRP also leads to multi-drug resistance. Here's what they did.
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The researchers exposed breast cancer and lung cancer cells that made BCRP to a chemo drug called mitoxantrone. Of course, after a while, these cells started making BCRP and were soon no longer killed by the drug. Then they exposed the cells to the flavonoids and quickly discovered that some of the flavonoids "completely reversed mitoxantrone resistance, indicating that these flavonoids are BCRP inhibitors." And that's not even the best part. They also found out that the BCRP-inhibiting effect of the flavonoids was dose dependent. The more flavonoid they exposed the cells to, the less able they were to survive the drug. So what flavonoids were good at inhibiting BCRP?
Two flavonoids stood out. One was chrysin. Chrysin is found in high levels in propolis and in honey. Propolis is a glue-like substance found in honeycombs. Chrysin is also found in the passion flowers Passiflora caerulea and Passiflora incarnate. You can buy all of these chrysin-containing supplements at any health food store.
The other flavonoid that was a potent inhibitor of BCRP was biochanin A. You can find biochanin A in red clover, soy, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts, and in chickpeas and other legumes. You also can buy concentrated forms of these herbs. If you are going to have chemotherapy for either lung or breast cancer, it only makes sense to be taking these flavonoids at the same time.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Zhang S, Yang X, Morris ME. Flavonoids are inhibitors of breast cancer resistance protein (ABCG2)-mediated transport. Mol Pharmacol. 2004 May;65(5):1208-16