Rosemary: Protective In Cancer?

Cancer is a main cause of morbidity and mortality in many industrial countries. Thankfully, much research has been done in recent years to discover different foods that have antioxidants and other protective properties which may help prevent the development of certain cancers. This research has led to the development of powerful green supplement products packed with powerhouse ingredients to help individuals maintain optimum health and fend of illness and disease.

There are many different types of cancer that can affect the human body. Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, rectal cancer or bowel cancer results from uncontrolled cell growth in the colon or rectum, or in the appendix. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, but it is more common in developed countries. Symptoms of colorectal cancer typically include rectal bleeding and anemia, sometimes associated with weight loss and changes in bowel habits. Screening is effective at decreasing the chance of dying from colorectal cancer and is recommended starting at the age of 50 and continuing until 75 years of age.

Breast cancer originates from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. The characteristics of the cancer determine treatment, which may include surgery, medications (hormonal therapy and chemotherapy), radiation and/or immunotherapy. Worldwide, breast cancer accounts for 22.9% of all cancers in women and is more than 100 times more common in women than in men.

Liver or hepatic cancer is the fifth most frequently diagnosed cancer globally and the second leading cause of cancer death. Liver cancers are malignant tumors that grow on the surface or inside the liver, formed from the liver itself or from structures within the liver, including blood vessels and bile duct.

Skin cancers are named after the type of skin cell from which they arise. Basal cell cancer originates from the lowest layer of the epidermis, and is the most common but least dangerous skin cancer. Squamous cell cancer originates from the middle layer, and is less common but more likely to spread and, if untreated, become fatal. Melanoma, which originates in the pigment-producing cells or melanocytes), is the least common, but most aggressive, most likely to spread and, if untreated, become fatal.

Environmental factors have been found to greatly influence the multiple-stage process which leads eventually to cancer. In the late 1990s, evidence from animal preclinical studies suggested a major role of food bioactive compounds in the reduction of cancer risk. Particularly, vegetables and certain bioactive plant components have been found to possess protective effects on the development of cancer. The evidence from these studies have led to the development of healthy green supplements. 

In recent years much interest has focused on rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), whose active constituents are phenolic compounds with high antioxidant effects. The main active compounds of rosemary include caffeic acid, rosemarinic acid (RA), ursolic acid (UA), carnosic acid (CA) and carnosol. Approximately 90% of the total antioxidant activity of rosemary is derived from carnosol and CA.

In many parts of the world, rosemary is a common household plant that is used for many purposes including food flavoring, drink, and beverages as well as cosmetic uses. Traditionally, it has been used for relieving renal colic, dysmenorrhea, respiratory disorders and stimulating hair growth. Moreover, rosemary has been reported to be of potential therapeutic benefit in the treatment and/or prevention of asthma, peptic ulcer, inflammatory diseases, hepatotoxicity, atherosclerosis, ischemic heart disease, cataract and poor sperm motility.

Rosemary has also been found to exert protective effects on cancer, mainly from animal and cell culture studies. Most of the reported benefits of rosemary on cancer are not from human randomized controlled trials. A systematic review and evaluation of the evidence examined the protective effects of rosemary and its active constituents on multiple forms of cancer. No published human clinical studies on rosemary and cancers were identified.

Different types of diet were employed across the animal studies. It is important to assess the background diet as this can influence outcomes considerably. Despite the variability in diet composition, Rosemary's anticancer effects were observed in all studies. In terms of the bio-active ingredients being studied, rosemary extract, carnosol and UA were investigated in the animal studies. The anticancer effects of rosemary extract were found to be significant in 5 studies. In the remaining studies, anticancer effects were observed but did not reach significance, possibly because of large inter-individual variability.

Overall, 2 of the animal studies investigated colorectal cancer. Carnosol (1% in diet) inhibited colorectal cancer at initiation, promotion, and progression, in addition to reducing intestinal tumor multiplicity. Ursolic acid (0.11% in diet) reduced incidence of aberrant crypt foci, one of the earliest precursors of colorectal adenoma development. Other types of cancer investigated include mammary, liver and skin cancer. Rosemary extract, carnosol and UA reduced both the incidence and/or multiplicity of mammary tumors. From a randomized controlled trial which involved 34 patients, foods enriched with bioactive compounds such as rosemary extract were found to be a promising adjuvant therapy in advanced breast cancer patients. The mechanism underlying this effect was thought to be due to lowering oxidative stress. Rosemary constituents were also found to decrease the number of skin tumor and hepatic tumor biomarkers as well as inducing carcinogen metabolizing enzymes. Overall, these animal studies have provided important insights into the mechanisms of cancer protection by rosemary and its constituents.

The two key ingredients in Rosemary - caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid - are potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, which help protect cells from damage by free radicals. Rich in carnosol, Rosemary has been found to detoxify substances that can initiate the breast-cancer process and it is also a rich source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), another powerful antioxidant. It's widely known that an imbalance of estrogen hormones in women can contribute to breast cancer. While conventional drugs like Tamoxifen help block the effects of estrogen, they can cause unpleasant side effects. Rosemary, on the other hand, offers a safe and natural alternative treatment. Researchers believe that rosemary stimulates liver enzymes, which inactivate estrogen hormones.

A word of caution - women who are pregnant are advised against using rosemary. And since its oil is extremely potent, it should never be ingested directly.

A word of advice - make sure you are getting proper nutrition by adding a green supplement to your daily diet. 


Read more on this topic:
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Lower Cancer Risk with the DASH Diet

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