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Green Tea May Cause Oral Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct

Green Tea May Cause Oral Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct

According to Penn State researchers, a compound in green tea may cause human oral cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death without damaging healthy cells. The research could lead to treatments for oral cancer, as well as other types of cancer.

Green tea has been widely studied for its antioxidant effects, which are largely attributed to a polyphenol called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG for short. The results of this study, which were published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, suggest that EGCG appears to act on the mitochondria of oral cancer cells by stimulating them to produce reactive oxygen species, reactive molecules that contain oxygen ions and peroxides. In response, the cancer cells form even more ROS, while inhibiting the expression of anti-oxidant genes at the same. This essentially leaves the cells without a defense against the oxidative stress EGCG seems to trigger and a process called apoptosis occurs, leading to cell death.

A factor in the process involves a protein called sirtuin 3 (SIRT3). The researchers speculate that EGCG selectively targets and "turns off" this protein, which leads the scientists to believe that green tea compounds may also effectively inhibit other types of cancer.


Ling Tao, Jong-Yung Park, Joshua D. Lambert. Differential prooxidative effects of the green tea polyphenol, (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, in normal and oral cancer cells are related to differences in sirtuin 3 signaling. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201400485

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