Scientists at the Children's Hospital and Research Centre Oakland have discovered that the humble soy bean is a preventative of colon cancer and a possible treatment for it.
Substances called sphingadienes (SDs) are a natural molecule found in soy which is thought to be responsible for soy's anti-cancer abilities. SD's were first discovered in fruit flies as part of research into human genetic diseases. A high concentration of SD's would result in the death of abnormal cells in the fruit fly, giving scientists the idea that they could be used as a cancer treatment.
Cancer treatments usually focus on cell death, i.e, using radiation or a cocktail of chemicals to kill off the mutant cells. The problem with this approach is that it also kills off healthy cells and damages the immune system of a person who is already struggling to survive. Using SD's in soy may be a much safer form of treatment.
There have been many studies written on the benefits of soy and its ability to prevent colon cancer, but until now, the medical profession had no idea why.
Saba, lead author of the research which will be published in the December 15th edition of Cancer Research, said "First, we are encouraged to find a natural molecule that could be consumed through soy products as a strategy to help prevent colon cancer. Second,this information is important because we can build on our understanding of the structure and metabolism of SDs in terms of developing new drugs to treat people who already have colon cancer. Uncovering how SDs exert their effects also helps us to find the most likely combinations of drugs that may work synergistically to eliminate cancer cells and mutant cells that could give rise to cancer.”
She added "I would be comfortable recommending soy products as a change in the diet that could protect against cancer. The more that soy is studied, the more of these protective agents are found, so it’s a very healthy diet choice."
The findings are very much preliminary and more research needs to be done to assess if SD's can be taken from soy and developed into an anti-cancer medicine.