Caffeic acid is a substance that is present in all plants, including vegetables, fruits, herbs, coffee beans, plant-based spices and others that we eat and drink. Caffeic acid is believed to have potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which are of increasing interest to medical researchers.
Caffeic acid is part of a group of chemicals called hydroxycinnamic acids. These fragrant acids are part of an even larger group of chemicals called polyphenols.
Like many other polyphenols, caffeic acid is an antioxidant. This means that it can slow oxidative stress in the body and fight the free radicals this stress produces. Oxidative stress is linked to faster progression of the aging process and many other health issues, including cancer and dementia.
Fast facts on caffeic acid:
- Some skin and body care companies add caffeic acid to products because of its antioxidant properties.
- A handful of manufacturers offer caffeic acid supplements.
- Most research has found that caffeic acid can slow or reverse inflammation.
- Research has also found that caffeic acid is safe, even in relatively large doses.
There are a number of different uses of caffeic acid, including:
Although the research is preliminary, some studies suggest that caffeic acid might slow cancer development or prevent the disease altogether.
One study from 2015 used 1,090 people with breast cancer to look at the effect of caffeine and caffeic acid on breast cancer growth in relation to the condition’s estrogen receptor status. It concluded that caffeine and caffeic acid demonstrated anticancer properties and suppressed the growth of estrogen receptor cells.
Furthermore, a 2014 study showed caffeic acid derivatives inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells, both in vitro and in vivo.
Other preliminary research on caffeic acid’s role in fighting cancer achieved mixed results.
In 1988, researchers looked at caffeic acid’s effects on tumors in mice. Although caffeic acid did slow tumor growth, it was less effective than two other substances, chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid.
Studies using mice cannot always be applied to humans. Moreover, researchers only looked at one type of cancer. Other, more recent, studies have had more promising results.
A 2000 study looked at the effects of caffeic acid on oral cancer cells. Caffeic acid was highly effective at killing oral cancer cells. Additionally, it did not kill normal cells in the mouth.
The study was done in a laboratory setting and not in a human mouth, so it is unclear if these results would be true a person with active oral cancer.
However, the fact that caffeic acid did not harm healthy cells may suggest that it could be a safe alternative to chemotherapy.
A 2003 study explored caffeic acid’s role as a treatment for breast cancer. That study found that caffeic acid could target a chemical that helps a specific type of breast cancer cell reproduce. In so doing, caffeic acid also prevented breast cancer from continuing to grow.
Again, these results suggest that caffeic acid might be a viable treatment for some types of breast cancer.
So far, there is no evidence that caffeic acid can replace other cancer treatments, so people with cancer should not consider it as an alternative.
The promising nature of the research, however, suggests that eating foods high in caffeic acid might support other cancer treatments a person may be receiving.
Other benefits of caffeic acid
Further areas where caffeic acid might be beneficial include:
- Chronic inflammation: Caffeic acid’s anti-inflammatory power is one way it might fight or prevent cancer. A 1996 study found that caffeic acid could target a specific source of inflammation, both in a petri dish and in the human body. Another, more recent study in 2013 showed that caffeic acid strongly suppresses inflammatory enzymes.
- Diabetes: Research in mice has found that caffeic acid may combat some effects of diabetes. A
2009 studyof diabetic mice found that caffeic acid could raise blood insulin levels, lower blood glucose, and fight inflammation. Caffeic acid also reduced the risk of a dangerous blood clot and lowered triglycerides, which are associated with clogged arteries and heart disease.
Similarly to other antioxidants, caffeic acid may also slow the physical aging process. This means, theoretically at least, that it could improve the appearance and elasticity of the skin, preventing wrinkles, or reducing their visibility.
Studies that have looked at caffeic acid have used a variety of doses and sometimes mixed it with other plant chemicals that may increase its potency.
As researchers have taken such different approaches to caffeic acid dosing, it is unclear whether any specific dose of this plant polyphenol is necessary to gain its benefits.
No studies currently support a daily limit on caffeic acid intake but, as with any chemical, large doses might be harmful.
The safest option is for someone to eat a variety of foods rich in caffeic acid. Alternatively, people can consider a caffeic acid supplement.
Can I get enough caffeic acid from my diet?
As caffeic acid is present in a large number of foods, people who eat a varied and healthful diet and who lack significant food allergies, are unlikely to have an allergic reaction.
As with any nutritional supplement, someone should talk to a doctor about risks and benefits before increasing caffeic acid intake.
Caffeic acid is never a good substitute for standard medical care, and even the most promising research into its effects does not suggest that it alone can cure any specific disease.
Coffee is a key source of caffeic acid, but numerous other plant-based foods contain small quantities. Some of the richest sources of caffeic acid include:
- dried fruits
- seed oils
- sunflower seeds
- black olives
Various products are available that contain caffeic acid as one of their ingredients.
Although caffeic acid is generally safe and well tolerated by most people, there is not enough research to recommend a daily target dose or a maximum safe dose.