The full study of a new research indicating that Saffron has a significant chemopreventive effect against liver cancer in animals is published in the September issue of Hepatology, a journal published by Wiley Blackwell on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. The study reveals, that when rats with diethylnitrosamine (DEN)-induced liver cancer were given saffron, it inhibited cell proliferation and stimulated apoptosis.

As the fifth most common cancer, Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer worldwide. The major risk factor for contracting HCC, according to medical evidence, is chronic infection with hepatitis B and C. Other risk factors include iron overload, fatty liver disease, alcohol abuse and exposure to environmental carcinogens (DEN) that is found in tobacco-smoke, cosmetics, gasoline, and processed foods including milk and meat products.

Prof. Amr Amin from the United Arab Emirates University said,

"In the fight against cancer, there has been much interest in chemopreventive properties of natural herbs and plants. With limited treatment options, approaches that prevent cancer development are among the best strategies to protect against the disease."

Earlier studies revealed that saffron, a naturally derived plant product from a commonly used spice used for adding flavor and color to foods, has antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties and could be a readily available cancer-fighting substance.

To allow further explorations into saffron's potential in preventing development and progression of HCC, researchers used DEN in rats to simulate benign and malignant tumors in humans. In the 22-week long study, animals were first injected with DEN and two weeks later they received daily saffron doses of 75mg/kg, 150 mg/kg, and 300 mg/kg.

Findings revealed that saffron significantly reduced the number and the incidence of liver nodules, with animals receiving the highest dose showing complete inhibition of hepatic nodules. Animals receiving pre-treatment with saffron showed a decrease in the elevation of gamma glutamyl transpeptidase, alanine aminotransferase and alpha-fetoprotein (GGT, ALT, αFP) - proteins that indicate liver damage. Saffron also prevented the elevation of cells positive for Ki-67, cyclooxygenase 2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, nuclear factor-kappa Bp-65 and the phosphorylated tumor necrosis factor receptor, all of which play a part in the development and progression of cancerous cells.

In a concluding statement Prof. Amin said,

"Our findings suggest that saffron provides an anti-cancer protective effect by promoting cell death (apoptosis), inhibiting proliferation of cancerous cells, and blocking inflammation. Further investigation of saffron extract and its mechanism of action in HCC is currently underway."

Written by Petra Rattue