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Promise and Progress - DNA Damaging Toxins In Food

Reprogramming Cancer Cells - The Story of Epigenetics
Issue No. 1

DNA Damaging Toxins In Food

Date: July 16, 2014


Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2013

Research pairing food chemistry and cancer biology revealed potentially harmful effects of foods and food flavorings on cell DNA.  The well-studied tumor suppressor gene p53 is activated when DNA is damaged.  The higher the level of damage, the greater the activation of p53, so Scott Kern, M.D, the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professor of Pancreas Cancer Research, conducted studies to see how the gene reacted to specific foods and flavorings.  Among the items studied, liquid smoke flavoring, black and green teas, and coffee caused the greatest activation (a nearly 30-fold increase) of p53 in his studies.  Conversely, fish and oyster sauces, Tabasco and soy sauces, black bean sauces, soybean paste, kimchi, wasabi powder, hickory smoke powders, and smoked paprika had minimal effects on p53. 

There has been little basic science research of the foods we eat and their effects on cells. While the scientists caution that their studies do not suggest people should stop consuming these foods, they do suggest a need for more research into DNA-damage that occurs through diet and our body’s natural defenses against this source of genetic injury.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute grant CA 62924 and the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professorship in Pancreas Cancer Research.

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