Italian men have a lower incidence of prostate cancer when compared to men in the United States. And a recent study by Long Island University researchers may have discovered part of their secret in a common spice they frequently consume—oregano.
The results of the study were presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 poster session on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. Experimental Biology is an annual gathering of six scientific societies—American Association of Anatomists (AAA), American Physiological Society (APS), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men and the second leading cause of cancer death. According to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control more than 29,000 men died of prostate cancer in 2007. The current treatment options for patients—surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy and vaccine therapy—all involve significant risks and side effects.
Oregano is typically associated with Italian cuisine and a common spice added to pizza seasoning. For thousands of years oregano has been prized as a medicinal herb by holistic healers. Hippocrates, a Greek physician and the father of Western medicine, used it for stomach and respiratory ailments. Benedictine healer and herbalist Hildegard of Bingen purportedly used oregano for female and respiratory problems. The Greeks and Romans used oregano medicinally for aching muscles and spider bites.
Modern science has discovered that oregano possesses an abundance of therapeutic qualities, including antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Oregano essential oil is used for wart removal, arthritis, respiratory infections and as a digestive aid. The primary active compound of oregano is carvacrol.
Previous research found that eating pizza may reduce the risk of certain cancers. This preventative effect was attributed to the lycopene—from tomatoes—content in pizza sauce. Dr. Supriya Bavadekar, PHD, RPh, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at LIU’s Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and her colleagues tested carvacrol on prostate cancer cells during the current study.
The study authors discovered that carvacrol induces apoptosis—programmed cell death—in prostate cancer cells. The malfunction of apoptosis is critical to cancer development and tumor-cell survival.
Though the study is in its early stages it does generate great interest in the potential for oregano to be used in future cancer treatment. Particularly because it carries fewer risks and side effects than currently available treatment options.