(AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 7, 2014) Researchers at the University of Minnesota (UM) and Texas Tech University recently studied the effects of a special preparation of the kava root (Piper methysticum) on lung cancer in mice, and have concluded that the chemically defined extract may have the potential to reduce the risk of lung cancer in humans, according to a press release (appended below) issued today by UM.
“This is highly interesting research and suggests a potential new use for certain preparations made from kava root and rhizome,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC). “Of course,” he added, “the preliminary results must be confirmed in human clinical trials.
Blumenthal noted that ABC policy on reporting of scientific and clinical research on herbs and their preparations designates that "ABC does not usually cover animal research in its scientific reporting, preferring human clinical trials. However, in this case ABC believes that the potential implications for human health and the herb kava are significant enough, as suggested by this particular animal research, to warrant attention by ABC."
According to Stefan Gafner, Chief Science Officer of ABC, “The fact that the researchers were able to find evidence of the ability of a kava fraction to prevent the formation of tumors in mice, in support of epidemiological data showing a lower incidence of lung cancer in people living on the South Pacific Islands where kava is traditionally used, makes this study very compelling. If confirmed in human clinical studies, the results could have a big impact on human health and may lead to a greater emphasis on prevention rather than cure."
Prof. Bill Gurley, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, reviewed the study and commented to ABC, “…the findings are both compelling and certainly merit further research in order to translate them into the clinic. The findings are a breath of fresh air for kava, in particular, and botanical supplements, in general. Recently supplements have suffered quite a bit of negative publicity — some of it deserved, some not — but the kava study from the University of Minnesota emphasizes what good science coupled with quality botanicals can produce."
According to Rick Kingston, PharmD, a clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and president of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at SafetyCall International in Minneapolis, “This research is truly unprecedented in its potential impact. A 99% cancer prevention efficacy is unheard of with this very sensitive research model and paves the way for future clinical trials to assess human applications. Another fascinating aspect relates to identifying kava components likely responsible for rare cases of liver toxicity associated with kava dietary supplements. Fortunately, the risk of kava liver complications is low, but this will allow development of supplement preparations devoid of [compounds that may cause] adverse liver effects that can be used for both anti-anxiety and wellness applications in the supplement arena.”
The University of Minnesota Press release is appended immediately below:
University of Minnesota research finds kava plant may prevent cigarette smoke-induced lung cancer
MINNEAPOLIS/ ST. PAUL (EMBARGOED UNTIL 11:05 PM CST JANUARY 7, 2014) – New research from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and Masonic Cancer Center has found that consumption of the root of Piper methysticum, or kava, a plant native to the South Pacific Islands, may prevent the development of tobacco smoke-induced lung cancer.
In addition, the research team has identified the naturally occurring components of kava that appear responsible for all the cancer-preventative benefits. By using a patent-pending blend of these active kava ingredients, the research team was also able to avoid liver damage, a rare side effect previously associated with various commercially available kava-containing dietary supplements.
The findings are published ahead-of-print today in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.
In the latest study, the University of Minnesota research team found daily consumption of a kava-derived dietary supplement prevented the formation of 99 percent of tumors in a mouse lung tumorigenesis model that is routinely used in predicting lung cancer behavior in humans. The unprecedented level of tumor prevention was coupled with the finding that some mice developed no tumors at all. DNA damage resulting from tobacco carcinogens was also significantly reduced by way of prevention, providing a clue to what is potentially behind kava’s effectiveness.
The findings open up the future possibility of health care professionals recommending or prescribing kava-derived products in the form of dietary supplements or drugs for current tobacco smokers to reduce their risk of developing lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer 13-fold for women and 23-fold for men.
The research may also help explain the low rate of cancer incidence where kava is traditionally consumed. Rates of cancer in the South Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, Fiji and Western Samoa are dramatically lower than those in countries with no kava consumption. Similarly, despite tobacco smoking rates comparable to those of the United States, the occurrence of lung cancer in Fiji is just 5 to 10 percent of the U.S. lung cancer occurrence rate.
However, not all commercially available kava products on the market today are equal and many may carry the risk of liver injury.
In Europe, where kava had been routinely used to treat anxiety, kava products were temporarily pulled from the market after being linked to liver problems. Many factors have been hypothesized to contribute to the rare problems, and although a definitive cause has not been identified, current products in the market typically carry a liver injury warning. Prior to liver toxicity concerns, Hawaii served as one of the largest sources of commercially available kava.
"I wouldn’t recommend using kava supplements on the market today with the hopes of receiving cancer prevention benefits,” said Chengguo Xing, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and a member of Masonic Cancer Center. “Although occasional use of currently available kava supplements is likely to have a low risk of liver injury, they may not safely provide the intended chemopreventative benefits.”
Preliminary data from University of Minnesota has identified the potential compound behind kava-related liver problems and human clinical trials for the new, patent-pending kava supplement enriched with cancer-preventative benefits alone are planned. The University of Minnesota research team is also pursuing development of kava-derived drugs that may aid in both the prevention and treatment of other types of cancers.
Scientists collaborating in this research include lead authors Pablo Leitzman and Sreekanth Narayanapillai in the U of M College of Pharmacy (Chengguo Xing Group), and their peers in the U of M Masonic Cancer Center (Stephen Hecht Group), U of M College of Veterinary Medicine (M. Gerry O’Sullivan) and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (Junxuan Lu). Funding for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health grant no. R01 CA142649.
About the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy
The University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, the only school of pharmacy in Minnesota, offers its program on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses. Founded in 1892, the College of Pharmacy educates pharmacists and scientists and engages in research and practice to improve the health of the people of Minnesota and society. The college is part of the Academic Health Center, which is home to the University of Minnesota’s six health professional schools and colleges as well as several health-related centers and institutes. Learn more at www.pharmacy.umn.edu.
About the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota
The Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota is part of the University's Academic Health Center and is designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute for cancer research, treatment, and education. For more information about the Masonic Cancer Center, visit www.cancer.umn.edu or call 612-624-2620.