Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women. New research on mice suggests drinking a glass of wine could help fight the disease.

The study conducted on mice at Penn State’s Hershey Cancer Institute showed that various compounds found in grape seeds can kill cancerous colorectal stem cells.

The compounds, which are known as resveratrol, were found to kill colon cancer cells most effectively when combined with grape seed extract; in fact, taking resveratrol and grape seed extract separately was less effective in killing cancerous stem cells.

Both resveratrol and grape seed extract are found in wine, which is argued by many including supporters of the Mediterranean diet to be healthy if consumed in moderation. The Mediterranean Diet also emphasizes legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as herbs and lean meats, such as fish and poultry. It also encourages cooking with olive oil instead of butter, and studies have shown that following the Mediterranean diet promotes a healthy heart.

“This also connects well with a plant-based diet that is structured so that the person is getting a little bit of different types of plants, of different parts of the plant and different colors of the plant,” noted Jairam K.P. Vanamala, associate professor of food sciences, Penn State. “This seems to be beneficial for not only promoting bacterial diversity, but also preventing chronic diseases and eliminating the colon cancer stem cells.”

The research team placed 52 mice with cancerous tumors in their colons into three distinct groups: a control group, one fed grape compounds, and a third fed sulindac, an anti-inflammatory drug that killed a significant amount of tumors in humans during a previous clinical trial.

The results were clear: in the group of mice consuming the grape compounds, their incidence of tumors was reduced by 50 percent; this rate was comparable to the results from the group of mice that consumed sulindac.

Vanamala said in a press release that not only is the combination of grape seed extract and resveratrol “very effective at killing colon cancer cells,” but also nontoxic to healthy ones.

If human trials using resveratrol and grape seed extract are successful in combating colon cancer, patients could be given the compounds in low doses via pill supplements that are already on the market; patients could even continue taking the supplements to lower the risk of their cancer returning.

Based on cancer stem-cell theory, Vanamala asserted that it is best to target cancerous stem cells in particular because they are what give rise to cancerous tumors. This is because cancerous stem cells remain responsible for cellular differentiation and self-renewal even after they have metastasized, or spread throughout the body.

Moving forward, Vanamala explained that it’s important researchers look into the underlying mechanisms of these grape extracts’ anti-cancer functions. Ideally, follow-up research would focus on discovering the specific anti-cancer compounds found in grape seed extract and resveratrol to put together the most effective colon-cancer treatment and prevention approaches possible.

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