Saffron, a commonly used spice that adds flavour and colour to foods, provides a significant chemopreventive effect against liver cancer in animal models, a new study has found.
When saffron was administered to rats with diethylnitrosamine (DEN), induced liver cancer, an inhibition of cell proliferation and stimulation of apoptosis was observed.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer, is the fifth most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer mortality in the world.
Prior studies have shown that saffron, a naturally derived plant product, possesses antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.
The research team administered saffron to the animals at 75mg/kg, 150 mg/kg, and 300 mg/kg per day two weeks prior to DEN injection and continued the regimen for 22 weeks.
Results show saffron significantly reduced the number and the incidence of liver nodules, with animals receiving the highest dose of saffron showing complete inhibition of hepatic nodules.
Animals that received pre-treatment with saffron displayed a decrease in the elevation of gamma glutamyl transpeptidase, alanine aminotransferase and alpha-fetoprotein (GGT, ALT, aFP)-proteins, which indicate liver damage.
Furthermore, saffron inhibited the elevation of cells positive for Ki-67, cyclooxygenase 2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, nuclear factor-kappa Bp-65 and the phosphorylated tumour necrosis factor receptor, all of which have respective roles in the development and progression of cancerous cells.
"Our findings suggest that saffron provides an anti-cancer protective effect by promoting cell death (apoptosis), inhibiting proliferation of cancerous cells, and blocking inflammation," concluded Prof. Amr Amin from United Arab Emirates University.
The detailed study appear in the September issue of Hepatology, a journal published by Wiley Blackwell on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.