Can the delicious maple syrup you put on your pancakes help fight cancer? Yes, says a study published in Oncology Reports which found that the natural sweetener can slow the growth of human colon cancer cells and inhibit their invasion of other cells.
The study, which was conducted by Japanese researchers, tested three different types of maple syrup — slightly golden, amber, and very dark brown — and found that the darker the syrup, the more pronounced the anti-cancer effect.
Maple syrup contains many compounds, they noted, including oligosaccharides, organic acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It also contains various polyphenols, such lignans and coumarin, quebecol, and ginnalin. In their study, they discovered that ginnalin-A specifically inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells.
The researchers suggested that maple syrup could be a possible alternative to traditional highly toxic cancer treatments. "These findings suggest that maple syrup, particularly dark colored ones, might be suitable as phytomedicines, which have fewer adverse effects than traditional chemotherapy for CRC treatment," they wrote.
The same researchers followed up their study of colon cancer cells with one involving human gastrointestinal cancer cells. The 2017 study, which was published in Biomedical Reports in July, found that dark-colored maple syrup significantly inhibited the growth of gastrointestinal cancer cells when compared to non-treated cancer cells.
The study suggested that the syrup inhibited cell proliferation through the suppression of AKT activation, a cellular signal pathway that aids the development and spread of cancer. As a result, the researchers believe that maple syrup may be suitable as a phytomedicine to treat gastrointestinal cancer.
A 2013 study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemical Letters found that a phenol found in maple syrup called quebecol had effects similar to tamoxifen, a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast and other cancers. The researchers explained that tamoxifen had severe side effects whereas maple syrup shows no toxicity. They expressed hope that quebecol could be a way to fight cancer without the side effects of current treatments.
Modern science has found that maple syrup can help fight other conditions:
Alzheimer's. Researchers from the University of Toronto discovered that an extract found in pure maple syrup prevents the misfolding and clumping of two types of proteins prominent in Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers showed that maple syrup prevented beta amyloid proteins from tangling and forming clumps, the plaques found in Alzheimer's brains. They also found the syrup produced a neuroprotective effect in the microglial brain cells of rats. Microglial cells neutralize toxic substances in the brain and calm inflammation, and new research indicates that keeping them healthy helps prevents neurodegeneration and memory loss.
"In preliminary laboratory-based Alzheimer's disease studies, phenolic-enriched extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine," said Dr. Navindra Seeram.
Superbugs. Dr. Nathalie Tufenkji of Canada's McGill University took an extract made from the phenolic compounds in maple syrup and mixed it with commonly used antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin to see if the extract would enhance their antimicrobial potency. They found that the mixture had a synergistic effect, allowing them to get the same antimicrobial effect with upwards of 90 percent less antibiotic.
The method worked on a variety of bacterial strains, including E. coli, which can cause gastrointestinal problems; Proteus mirabilis, responsible for many urinary tract infections; and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause infections often acquired by patients in hospitals.
Inflammation. Quebecol, the phenol in maple syrup, curbs the body's inflammatory response, which is a key characteristic of inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers at Quebec's Université Laval took a type of blood cells called macrophages and added bacterial compounds. Normally, this triggers an inflammatory response, but when the researchers added quebecol, the response didn't occur.
The scientists have created synthetic versions of quebecol that are even more powerful that the original molecule. They believe the new versions could open the door to a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs that would be effective in treating immune diseases, such as arthritis, while reducing the side effects of current treatments.
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