New research from The University of Texas at Austin identifies several natural compounds found in food, including turmeric, apple peels and red grapes, as key ingredients that could thwart the growth of prostate cancer, the most common cancer afflicting U.S. men.

Published online this week in Precision Oncology, the new paper uses a novel analytical approach to screen numerous plant-based chemicals instead of testing a single agent as many studies do, discovering specific combinations that shrink prostate cancer tumors.

“After screening a natural compound library, we developed an unbiased look at combinations of nutrients that have a better effect on prostate cancer than existing drugs,” says corresponding author Stefano Tiziani, assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Dell Pediatric Research Institute at UT Austin. “The beauty of this study is that we were able to inhibit tumor growth in mice without toxicity.”

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: Studies such as these are potentially very helpful, as we can evaluate specific combinations of treatments rather than treatments in isolation. Generally speaking, cell studies in the lab are the first test we do, and if a substance (or group of substances) seem promising, we will do animal studies in the lab. If a benefit is seen in animals, we progress to human studies. The more studies we have in humans, the better. Unfortunately, the limiting factors in doing these large-scale human trials are interest and cost. In the case of supplements, the interest in using supplements to fight cancer, and the money to pay for such studies, is simply not there. So what do we do? We use the best studies we can find, and we compare that to what we see clinically with our patients. As I always say, if a treatment seems promising, we think we know how it works, and we have some scientific basis for using it – and we do not believe that it will harm the patient or interact with any other therapies the patient is receiving – we should use it! Cancer is very aggressive, and we must pull out all the stops – from conventional medicine as well as from natural medicine – in our treatments.

In this study, we are not just looking at treatments in isolation, but in combination. This is important, since any cancer treatment protocol will typically include various treatments which we hope will work well in synergy. If we can do more studies looking at treatment combinations, we can potentially discover some novel new approaches. At the very least, we will be able to provide more validation that what we are doing is working.