Scientists are dissecting coffee in search of cancer cures.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks on the planet and is a complex cocktail.
In fact, coffee can contain more than 1,000 nonvolatile chemical compounds and in excess of 1,500 volatile ones.
The type and concentrations of these chemicals can vary wildly, depending on several factors, including how the makers prepare the beans.
Scientists have been intrigued by coffee's potential impact on health for many years. A drink that contains so many active ingredients — and one that people consume so widely — is likely to have an effect on the population at large.
Some studies have concluded that, overall, coffee might be a force for good. However, questions remain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in men. If chemicals from coffee can help reduce the risk, it is a line of investigation worth pursuing.
Coffee and prostate cancer
Scientists are now delving deeper into coffee's chemical makeup to understand how its constituent parts might work against cancer.
Recently, researchers from Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Science in Japan tested a range of coffee compounds against prostate cancer in mice. Specifically, they used cells that were resistant to standard cancer drugs, such as cabazitaxel.
This week, the scientists presented their results at the European Association of Urology congress in Barcelona, Spain. In December 2018, they also published their findings in the journal The Prostate.
Initially, the scientists looked at the effects of six coffee compounds. Then, they narrowed their focus to just two: kahweol acetate and cafestol. Both chemicals are hydrocarbons that naturally occur in Arabica coffee.
In their preliminary experiments, they showed that when they added kahweol acetate and cafestol to prostate cancer cells in a petri dish, the cells grew less rapidly.
Next, they tested the two compounds on prostate cancer cells that they had transplanted into mice. In all, they used 16 mice: four were controls and had no treatment; they gave a further four kahweol acetate; four had cafestol, and they treated the remaining four with both kahweol acetate and cafestol.
"We found that kahweol acetate and cafestol inhibited the growth of the cancer cells in mice, but the combination seemed to work synergistically, leading to a significantly slower tumor growth than in untreated mice," explains study leader, Dr. Hiroaki Iwamoto.
The effects were striking, and Dr. Iwamoto continues:
"After 11 days, the untreated tumors had grown by around [3.5] times the original volume (342 percent), whereas the tumors in the mice treated with both compounds had grown by around just over [1.5] (167 percent) times the original size."
Much more work is needed
It is important to remember that the scientists conducted this study on mouse cells. Also, as they explain, this is a pilot study. Consequently, they will need to carry out more work before they can ascertain whether the compounds are safe and effective in humans.
However, the researchers remain confident, and they are excited about the findings.
"What it does show is that these compounds appear to have an effect on drug-resistant cells prostate cancer cells in the right circumstances."
Dr. Hiroaki Iwamoto
The scientists are already planning on expanding their work. Dr. Iwamoto explains that "we are currently considering how we might test these findings in a larger sample, and then in humans."
The fact that preparation alters the chemical makeup of coffee opens up another important line of investigation, and it is still not clear whether brewing or filtering might remove kahweol acetate and cafestol from the final drink.
Although these results are exciting, there are still many questions that need answers.
As Dr. Iwamoto says, "These are promising findings, but they should not make people change their coffee consumption. Coffee can have both positive and negative effects ..." He remains upbeat, however, concluding that "if we can confirm these results, we may have candidates to treat drug-resistant prostate cancer."