UA researchers: Common food ingredient could fight cancer - Tucson News Now

UA researchers: Common food ingredient could fight cancer

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A common food coloring ingredient is showing promise as a cancer fighter.

University of Arizona researchers are studying the ingredient, called annatto, which can easily be found in the average person's kitchen. 

Annatto is a natural food additive that gives cheese its yellow color. 

It comes from the seeds of the achiote fruit.

The plant is from the Americas and has been eaten since pre-Columbian times.

UA College of Pharmacy Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology Dr. Georg Wondrak and Dr. Donna Zhang are members of the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

They're looking at a compound in annatto, called bixin, that can prevent skin cancer by preventing sunburn.

"The more sunburn you get, the more incidences of sunburn, the higher the frequency ... the incidence of cancer. So consequently, if you suppress sunburn, you can prevent the formation of cancer. That's the rationale," Wondrak said.

Thanks to the abundant sunshine in southern Arizona, Tucsonans have a high rate of skin cancer.

Wondrak's team first identified a pathway in the human body that helps protect its cells.

Now, in the early stages of their research, they think bixin might do something other than just make food look more colorful.

It might also enhance that protective pathway.

"We only know that our compounds can protect against sunburn through a very interesting, novel mechanism. It helps cells to mount a stress response that protects them against skin damage by UV light - sunburn," Wondrak said.

However, bixin and its possible cancer prevention properties might not be limited to skin cancer.

"We know that the molecular pathway engaged by these compounds, by bixin, is very important in the suppression of cancer in other organs, such as colon, liver maybe other organs," Wondrak said.

He said, if all goes well, his team could start testing bixin in people within five years.

Wondrak's hope is that eventually his team will be able to recommend the exact amount to eat that could protect them from some deadly diseases.

It could even be available in the form of a pill. 

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved. 

  • HealthHealthMore>>

  • APP EXTRA: The faces of addiction in Pima County

    APP EXTRA: The faces of addiction in Pima County

    Friday, February 23 2018 8:09 PM EST2018-02-24 01:09:13 GMT

    Opioid addiction crosses every line in our culture and the problem just keeps getting worse in Pima County.

    Opioid addiction crosses every line in our culture and the problem just keeps getting worse in Pima County.

  • Flu season shows signs of ebbing, but risk remains

    Flu season shows signs of ebbing, but risk remains

    Friday, February 23 2018 4:51 PM EST2018-02-23 21:51:41 GMT
    Friday, February 23 2018 4:51 PM EST2018-02-23 21:51:41 GMT
    Flu activity remains high in 39 states, according to the CDC. (Source: CDC)Flu activity remains high in 39 states, according to the CDC. (Source: CDC)

    The weekly report from the CDC on influenza reveals receding rates of doctor visits and deaths, though the virus remains widespread.

    The weekly report from the CDC on influenza reveals receding rates of doctor visits and deaths, though the virus remains widespread.

  • Stuck in an opioids crisis, officials turn to acupuncture

    Stuck in an opioids crisis, officials turn to acupuncture

    Tuesday, February 20 2018 7:52 AM EST2018-02-20 12:52:36 GMT
    Friday, February 23 2018 4:37 PM EST2018-02-23 21:37:54 GMT
    (AP Photo/Dake Kang). David Ramsey, a Medicaid patient who suffers from chronic pain after falling off a cliff in 2011, receives acupuncture treatment in Warrensville Heights, Ohio on November 13, 2017. Long derided as pseudoscience, acupuncture is inc...(AP Photo/Dake Kang). David Ramsey, a Medicaid patient who suffers from chronic pain after falling off a cliff in 2011, receives acupuncture treatment in Warrensville Heights, Ohio on November 13, 2017. Long derided as pseudoscience, acupuncture is inc...
    Ancient acupuncture is increasingly used as weapon in the nation's struggle with opioids.
    Ancient acupuncture is increasingly used as weapon in the nation's struggle with opioids.
Powered by Frankly