Licorice Stops Cancer Growth: Herb said to offer “new hope” for future therapies

A molecule extracted from licorice root has the ability to stop some cancers dead in their tracks, according to a collaborative research study conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Mohamed Rafi, assistant professor in the department of food science, discovered the new molecule, ß-hydroxy-DHP (BHP), in common dietary supplements made from licorice root, a natural remedy with curative powers recognized for millennia. Rafi tested the compound in the laboratory on tissues taken from prostate and breast cancer tumours.

“We were able to conclusively demonstrate for the first time that BHP stopped the growth of cancer cells in prostate and breast cancers,” Rafi said. Prostate and breast cancers are the leading cancers affecting men and women respectively, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BHP belongs to a class of organic chemicals known as polyphenols that includes the potential anticancer compounds found in green tea and wine.

“The precision with which ß-hydroxy-DHP acts in treating these cancers offers new hope for more effective therapies,” said Rafi. Standard chemotherapy kills normal cells along with cancer cells, causing side effects such as hair loss, nausea and reduced immunities. BHP, a small, highly specific molecule, focuses precisely on cancer cells. It works by deactivating a protein associated with tumour cells known to promote the rampant cell growth characteristic of cancer.

“While licorice root is currently in clinical trials, we still need to isolate, synthesize and clinically test the BHP compound,” Rafi says. “There is still a lot more to do both in the laboratory with animal models and in clinical trials on humans.”

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Dec 22, 2003