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January 14, 2002
BALTIMORE--Chlorophyllin could bind aflatoxin, a cancer-causingagent, thereby reducing the risk of liver cancer, according to scientists at theJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Oregon State University. Thestudy, published in an early release of the Proceedings of the NationalAcademies of Science (www.pnas.org),focused on a population in Qidong, the People's Republic of China, because of anextreme risk of liver cancer due to aflatoxin contamination in that area--one in10 adults dies of liver cancer in Qidong.
Aflatoxin is a chemical produced by mold that can infect grains and nuts ifthey are improperly stored in warm, moist areas. Inside the body, aflatoxinwreaks havoc on liver DNA, leaving a biomarker trail of aflatoxin-N7-guanine inthe urine. Increased levels of this biomarker in the urine indicates anincreased risk of liver cancer.
"Aflatoxin initiates cancer because it gets metabolized and forms astrong covalent chemical bond with certain parts of the DNA, in the liverparticularly, and that causes mutational effects," said George Bailey,Ph.D., distinguished professor of toxicology at Oregon State University inCorvallis, Ore. "Over about a 24-hour period, most of that damage getsrepaired out of the liver DNA, and those repair products appear in theurine."
In the randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchersfollowed 180 healthy adults from Qidong who were randomly assigned to ingest 100mg chlorophyllin or placebo three times daily for four months, as the derivativeof chlorophyll has been linked to reduced DNA damage from aflatoxin in animalmodels. Chlorophyllin is a mixture of semisynthetic, water-soluble derivativesof chlorophyll, which are commonly used as a food colorant and inover-the-counter (OTC) medication.
"This is an important distinction because chlorophyll has a basiccomplex chemical ring structure and it has a big fatty acid side chain on it,making natural chlorophyll fat-soluble," Bailey explained. "You cantreat [these rings] with an alkaline copper solution and hydrolyze off the fattyacid side chain and create acidic, or carboxylic, groups on this basic ringstructure. So, it still looks green, still has the basic intact ring system, butnow it is water-soluble rather than fat-soluble."
Bailey noted that this may be an important distinction in how chlorophyllinworks and whether it has more than one mechanism of action. "There areseveral chemical carcinogens that have a chemical structure that is close tochlorophyllin, and this allows the chlorophyllin and the carcinogens to stick toeach other," he said. "Basically, [chlorophyllin] allows a majorportion of the dose of the carcinogen that might be in your stomach to just passon through the system and not be absorbed."
To test results of supplementation, scientists studied urine samples forlevels of aflatoxin-N7-guanine. The aflatoxin biomarker was detected in 105 of169 available samples at three months. However, chlorophyllin consumption ateach meal led to an overall 55 percent reduction in median urinary levels of theaflatoxin biomarker compared with those taking placebo. Researchers concludedthat chlorophyllin may prevent the development of liver cancer or other cancersinduced by environmental toxins.
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