Clinical Trial: Resveratrol May Aid Cancer Radiation Treatment
Adding to the list of studies that find good things about resveratrol, researchers at the University of Missouri demonstrated that it could make certain types of cancer cells more susceptible to radiation treatment.
Because it is available in natural foods such as red grapes (fresh or as wine), resveratrol, one of a class of chemicals known as phenols (also known as carbolic acids), has over the last decade or so been the darling of both medical research and alternative medicine. It’s been linked to beneficial effects for a wide variety of health issues from the cardiovascular to extending life and it’s spawned a sizeable industry of resveratrol related products.
Based on a 2012 study for prostate cancer cells and resveratrol, this latest study is early work – conducted “in vitro,” meaning they used cancer cells in lab containers (like petri dishes) and it was restricted to one type of cancer, melanoma (mainly skin cancer). Other researchers need to confirm the results. After that, the research will advance to ‘in vivo’ testing, usually with animals and on a wider variety of cancer cells.
Even at this early stage, the statistics are good. Melanoma cells treated with resveratrol alone, 44% of them were killed. Adding radiation to the resveratrol treatment resulted in killing 65% of the tumor cells. This result was comparable to the effect of resveratrol and radiation, which the Missouri researchers found in the 2012 prostate cancer study. In short, it appears that resveratrol may be most effective as adjuvant (companion) treatment for primary chemo or radiation therapy.
This could be quite important, since although resveratrol itself attacks cancer cells, it is very difficult to get it to the cancer cells in the body. The liver readily metabolizes resveratrol, which means that to acquire a sufficient dose for therapy requires taking a very large amount of resveratrol. At the large doses, many people could have serious side effects. Most medical experts believe that this makes it a poor candidate for primary treatment – however, in combination with something else it could possibly become part of an effective treatment.
A different approach to resveratrol and radiation was used in a 2008 study at Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO USA), where mice were tested for bone marrow chromosome damage from radiation treatment. The resveratrol was found to lower the damage significantly. The study didn’t reveal how resveratrol added the protection (or repair) of DNA, but the correlation was strong enough to assume that it must in some way help the DNA maintenance mechanisms.
This ‘benefit of resveratrol’ without very detailed understanding of how it works is a distinctive pattern for much of the resveratrol research. It’s also the basis of a great deal of the appeal for alternative medicine, since its effectiveness is easily bolstered by preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence. Not all of the research (nor the commercial application) holds up.
This is not surprising. So far, resveratrol has been associated with life extension, exercise metabolism, cancer prevention and treatment, cardiovascular protection, anti-diabetic properties, skin protection, anti-inflammatory effects, anti-viral properties, testosterone level treatment, nervous system protection and reduction of tolerance to opium. That it would turn out not to be ultimately effective in most of these applications is predictable (again, especially when it is unknown how resveratrol actually works).
What surprises researchers is the biochemical activity of resveratrol. It seems to be able to work with or against a great number of cell-level processes, including those for cancer, which indicates that there is something fundamental about its biochemical properties. To discover those properties is where much of the current research is heading.
In the meantime, there are a number of resveratrol studies underway, including some that are about to go into clinical trial (with people). As most researchers say, these are early days for resveratrol. There is a lot of promise, but the road from discovery to routine human application is long and littered with hazards.