Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) is the fifth most common cancer in the world and ranks third in cancer-caused deaths. Recent research published in the September issue of Hepatology suggests that saffron may be significant in preventing the development of liver cancer.
The liver is a large organ located in the abdomen. It has many functions that are necessary for life including processing nutrients from food, removing toxins from the body, and building proteins. The body cannot function without the work of the liver.
Cancer is a condition that develops when cells form when the body does not need them, or when damaged cells fail to die so they can be replaced by healthy cells. These extra cells can create a mass of tissue known as a growth, nodule, or tumor.
Cancerous tumors in the liver can damage healthy tissue and prevent the liver from functioning the way it should. Cancer cells can also migrate to other parts of the body and create new tumors in other locations.
Liver cancer may be caused by scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver. Scarring is often the result of swelling or inflammation of the liver known as hepatitis.
Hepatitis can result from one of several specific viruses or can be caused by alcohol abuse, certain autoimmune diseases, or too much iron in the body. Hepatitis B and C are significant risk factors for developing liver cancer.
Other cancer risk factors include:
• Carcinogens in the environment including DEN (diethylnitrosamine) which is found in tobacco smoke, cosmetics, gasoline, and processed foods including milk and meat
• Too much iron in the body
• Fatty liver disease
Recent research in the fight against liver cancer has included studies of how certain herbs and plants may be able to prevent the development of cancer. Previous studies have shown that saffron may have anti-cancer as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Saffron is a plant that is commonly used as a spice.
In the study, rats were given varying amounts of saffron for two weeks. Then the animals were exposed to cancer-causing DEN to create lesions that mimic cancerous and non-cancerous tumors in humans.
The results showed that all levels of saffron significantly reduced the number and severity of nodules in the liver. The highest dose of saffron did not develop any liver nodules.
The research team concluded that saffron could provide a protective action against cancer by promoting the death of cancerous cells, preventing cancer cells from multiplying, and blocking inflammation in the liver. Further study of saffron is on-going.
Science Daily. Saffron Shows Promise in Preventing Liver Cancer, Study Suggests. Web. September 11, 2011.
National Institutes for Health: Medline Plus. Hepatocellular carcinoma. Web. September 11, 2011.
National Cancer Institute. Cancer Cells. Web. September 11, 2011.
About.com: Hepatitis. Why is the Liver So Important?. Web. September 11, 2011.
Reviewed September 13, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith