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Honeybush tea extract to be used to fight cancer, say researchers

Cape Times (South Africa)

05-16-14

FYNBOS could help treat breast cancer, new research from Stellenbosch University has found.

Dr Koch Visser is a postdoctoral fellow in the biochemistry department. He found in a recent study that a fynbos plant used to make honeybush tea, Cyclopia, may help curb the development of breast cancer.

Visser found that Cyclopia extracts can prevent cancer cell growth caused by oestrogen. The plant targets and blocks certain oestrogen receptors that promote breast cancer cell growth.

"There's a possibility that this research could offer respite to women who may be diagnosed with breast cancer in the future," Visser said.

Although researchers have long known about the relationship between oestrogen and breast cancer, this finding is important because it looks at the mechanism by which the hormone causes growth and how it can be regulated. In other words, Visser wanted to find out how the hormone interacted with the cell on a molecular level.

Visser took cultures of cancer cells to test the extracts taken from dried plant material. These cancer cells were commercially available and would allow other institutions to reproduce and compare results.

"I'm particularly excited about the discovery that Cyclopia extracts are absorbed through the digestive tract, while remaining nontoxic," Visser said. "Also, the extracts do not stimulate the growth of the uterus."

Visser said several studies had shown that certain drugs used to treat breast cancer could increase the risk of cancer in the uterus.

Breast cancer is the form of cancer most diagnosed in women and responsible for most cancer-related deaths in women. Women aged 50 or older have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. They are also more likely to use hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause, where oestrogen levels decrease dramatically. That therapy also increases the risk of breast cancer.

Visser said these women would most benefit from this research, adding that Cyclopia may be used as an alternative to traditional hormone replacement therapy.

While Cyclopia is sold commercially as honeybush, which contains "plant oestrogens" that can mimic or counter the effect of our own hormones, Visser said it was important to identify these active compounds for future regulation and dosage.

"At this stage it is still too early to say with certainty what the final form of the medicine will be and how often it will have to be used. We are confident we are on the right track and can contribute to the pool of knowledge about how breast cancer develops."

Visser says other research has shown that Cyclopia may also help fight skin, liver, and oesophageal cancer.

simone.alicea@inl.co.za

Cape Times

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