How green tea kills cancer stem cells

It’s long been known — or at least believed — that green tea heals. Throughout history, people (especially those in Asian countries) drank it for all kinds of ailments: stomach trouble, headaches and even the common cold.

Now we know they were on to something.

In recent years, green tea has been shown to fight cancer through its active ingredient, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). And, in a study recently published in cancer journal Oncotarget, we at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health, found that it specifically helps patients with colorectal cancer by preventing their bodies from resisting chemotherapy. To get that effect, it could be as simple as drinking the beverage daily or taking supplements.

Colorectal cancer is the country’s second-deadliest cancer, so we’re excited about the lifesaving potential of such an easy-to-make drink.

The Holy Grail is the word chemoresistance. Many patients don’t respond to current chemotherapies, and if they do respond, they can often develop resistance to these therapies within a few years.

Chemoresistance is the Achilles’ heel of cancer treatment, mostly because of cancer stem cells. While chemotherapies kill tumor cells, they leave the cancer stem cells unharmed. With time — anywhere from six months to a few years — those stem cells can cause a relapse. By then, the tumor is usually more aggressive and harder to treat, and the stem cells become “superman” cells because of their resilience. So, since the cancer is stronger, it can come back with a vengeance and patients may not respond to chemotherapy at all.

Green tea, though, helps kill these resilient cells because of unique properties in its active ingredient, EGCG. That’s why I recommend that patients with colorectal cancer take EGCG/green tea supplements, or drink the tea as a natural protection. Black tea also has EGCG, but in lesser amounts. What’s more, while our recent research focused on colorectal cancer, the benefit could extend to other cancers as well, because we’re talking about natural, more integrated approaches.

This is the goal of much of my research: to find better, safer, inexpensive and more natural ways to treat disease and delay recurrence. For years, I’ve studied other natural cancer fighters, such as curcumin (a spice, found in turmeric), which led to two clinical trials.

I hope there will be even more interest in using such integrative treatment approaches in the coming years — green tea included. Their potential as “helpers” to conventional chemo is a safe, non-toxic option we’d very much like to explore.

This article was contributed by Ajay Goel, PhD.

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This content has been written or reviewed by a member of the Baylor Scott & White Health medical staff.

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How green tea kills cancer stem cells