Bilirubin - a pigment found in bile helps ward off cancer and heart disease, say researchers.
Bile is a fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, whose function was simply thought to aid in the digestion process. But the latest breakthrough regarding bilirubin raises hopes in the fight against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Andrew Bulmer from the Griffith Health Institute with colleagues from the University of Vienna and the Heart Research Institute, Sydney, made the breakthrough, the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine reports.
Bulmer and his team conducted a study with 44 participants, half of whom had Gilbert Syndrome. People with this syndrome show naturally elevated levels of bilirubin and also higher concentrations of antioxidants, which can protect against disease, according to a Griffith statement.
"Analysis of blood revealed that those study participants with Gilbert Syndrome had less free radical damage and consistently showed higher levels of antioxidants in their blood," said Bulmer.
"Naturally elevated bilirubin concentrations are clearly protecting persons with Gilbert Syndrome from processes implicated in disease initiation and progression," said Bulmer.
"These findings reveal future potential for new drug, dietary and lifestyle interventions which could be used to mildly increase the concentration of bilirubin in people at risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease."
By chance, Bulmer also discovered that bilirubin potentially reduces cholesterol levels and that this could have an additional impact on preventing cardiovascular disease.