Licorice Could Prove to Be A Lifesaver
Black licorice, that twirled stick found on every candy shelf, could someday be just what the doctor orders. Or an extract of it, anyway. Licochalcone-A, a substance in licorice root, has been discovered to kill cancer cells in the laboratory. Robert DiPaola, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, announced his finding last fall at a conference sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research, the National Cancer Institute, and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer. Cells from patients with leukemia, breast and prostate cancer that were grown in cultures in the lab, he says, were killed when he added enough of the extract.
DiPaola found the compound while studying the herbal remedy, PC-SPES. Used by some prostate cancer patients, PC-SPES, he discovered, produces an estrogen-like effect that helps keep the cancer at bay. This work was published as the lead article in The New England Journal of Medicine in September 1998. He believes that Licochalcone-A, which is found in PC-SPES, may also have estrogenic qualities, but thinks it could have separate anti-tumor properties.
Some other compounds that have killed laboratory cancer cells have proven useless in humans, and so DiPaola says further studies in animals and humans must be made. Di Paola wants to study the licorice root extract because it's readily available, inexpensive and probably relatively nontoxic.
Licochalcone-A is an ingredient in some brands of licorice candy, but DiPaola says the amount a person would have to eat to kill cancer cells in the body - if indeed it does so - is still unknown. Additionally, excessive licorice ingestion may cause toxicity. His investigation is in the very early stages.