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City of Hope’s Superfoods Research

City of Hope’s Superfoods Research

Superfoods boost the body’s immune system
City of Hope researchers are looking for ways to prevent and cure cancer, and they’ve found some promising possibilities in the foods that we eat.

Lab research shows that certain "superfoods" may have the ability to combat cancer — without affecting healthy tissue.

How Superfoods Fight & Prevent Cancer
Superfoods could block hormones that help cancer spread
Several superfoods — mushrooms, pomegranates and grape seed extract — contain compounds with the ability to block the enzyme aromatase, which helps produce estrogen. Because most breast cancers are dependent on estrogen to grow, cutting down on the amount of estrogen may help kill the tumor.
Mushrooms also work similarly in prostate cancer by blocking hormones crucial to their growth.
City of Hope is testing medicine derived from shiitake mushrooms that could naturally help the body fight lung cancer by boosting the immune system.
Superfoods cut off tumors’ “life line”
City of Hope scientists found that cinnamon contains compounds that block tumor angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that fuels cancer cells' growth.
Fight breast and prostate cancer
  • City of Hope scientists were among the first to discover that white button mushrooms
    can help block hormones that cause breast cancer to grow and spread.
  • Researchers are also studying these same hormone-blocking effects for prostate cancer.

Fight lung cancer
  • City of Hope is testing medicine derived from shiitake mushrooms that could naturally
    help the body fight lung cancer by boosting the immune system.

Promote healthy metabolism
  • Recent research at City of Hope shows that mushrooms may prevent fatty liver, slow
    down the formation of fat and reduce the incidence of metabolic diseases.
Fight breast cancer
  • City of Hope researchers identified six natural compounds in pomegranates that suppress hormones that help breast cancers grow and spread.
Fights breast cancer
  • City of Hope researchers discovered that grape seed extract naturally blocks a hormone that causes breast cancer to spread and grow — but without affecting healthy tissue.

Read more about our grape seed extract research »

Fight triple-negative breast cancer
  • In City of Hope labs, studies of blueberries have shown they inhibit growth and the spread of triple-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer and often resistant to standard treatment.
Stunts growth of tumors
  • City of Hope scientists found that cinnamon extract interferes with a tumor’s ability to grow by blocking the tumor from forming blood vessels to feed it.


Can white button mushrooms stop prostate cancer recurrence? In a recent clinical trial at City of Hope, two patients experienced tremendous success with tablets made from concentrated white button mushrooms. Watch this story unfold.

Behold the formidable fungus.     


Not quite plant and not quite animal, it grows in out-of-the-way spots, avoiding attention. But if new studies at City of Hope bear fruit, the white button mushroom may enter the spotlight.


City of Hope scientists are on their way toward incorporating mushrooms in a cancer-fighting strategy.


Over the last decade, City of Hope researchers identified and tested cancer-inhibiting compounds in the common supermarket mushroom. Their work has moved into clinical trials at City of Hope, including one that tested whether consuming mushroom extract could stave off breast cancer recurrence in postmenopausal patients.


Early findings from that study showed that the doses of mushroom extract that were tested blocked activity of an enzyme important to breast cancer, but not at levels likely to deter the disease. The work encourages scientists to hone their potential strategy for prevention.


“Future studies should focus on more highly concentrated preparations of mushroom extract,” said Melanie Palomares, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medical oncology and director of the High Risk Breast Program, who presented the results at the meeting.


In earlier work, Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., chair and professor of City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Biology, found that phytochemicals — naturally occurring plant chemicals — in mushrooms can block the activity of the enzyme called aromatase.


Aromatase helps the body produce the hormone estrogen, which many breast cancers need to grow. Blocking the enzyme chokes off the supply of estrogen to tumor cells, stunting their growth. Several drugs that block aromatase are already part of medicine’s arsenal against breast cancer.


Mushrooms’ natural aromatase-inhibiting properties might offer a dietary, non-drug intervention to help prevent recurrence of hormone-dependent breast cancers, according to the researchers.


The current study, which aimed to find an effective dose of mushroom extract, centered on postmenopausal breast cancer survivors who were cancer-free after they finished their treatment.


Women in the study took white button mushroom extract daily for 12 weeks. They were divided into groups that received either 5-, 8-, 10- or 13-gram doses. The researchers checked patients’ responses by measuring blood levels of estradiol, a close chemical relative of estrogen. Women whose estradiol level dropped by 50 percent or more were deemed to have responded to the intervention.


Patients tolerated the extract well, but the estradiol level failed to drop by 50 percent or more in any group. The researchers did see evidence of modest aromatase inhibition that lasted as long as six hours at the highest dose level. The result suggested that eating mushrooms can weakly inhibit aromatase in patients, but much higher amounts likely are necessary for a clinically significant result.


“Over the course of 12 weeks, we were able to observe phytochemical activity, but not at high enough concentrations to significantly reduce circulating estrogen levels in our patients,” Palomares said. In addition to trying higher concentrations of mushroom extract in future studies, the scientists also may change the way they measure estrogens in the body. “The local estrogen level in the breast is likely more significant clinically than what circulates in the bloodstream.”



The crimson pomegranate has long held a reputation for suppressing growth and life. In Greek mythology, Persephone’s consumption of a few of its arils led to her banishment to the underworld and the cold infertility of winter.
Now modern-day researchers at City of Hope may have found a different seed of suppression: The fruit appears to stop and prevent certain breast cancers from growing.
In a study published in Cancer Prevention Research, Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology, research fellow Lynn Adams, Ph.D., and their colleagues found that pomegranates contain six compounds that may prevent breast cancer growth by blocking aromatase, an enzyme known to play a key role in most breast cancers. Aromatase converts androgens to estrogens, and most breast cancers depend on estrogen to grow.
Of these six substances, one called urolithin B (UB) has the most powerful impact, inhibiting several estrogen-producing mechanisms that fuel breast cancer’s growth. Chen and his team found that UB prevented the proliferation of estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells in the lab.

“By suppressing the production of estrogen, urolithin B and other phytochemicals found in pomegranates can prevent hormone-responsive breast cancer tumors from growing,” said Chen. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant compounds that may benefit health.
The other phytochemicals in pomegranates found to inhibit aromatase activity are urolithin A (UA), methylated UA, acetylated UB, methylated UB and UB sulfate.
Previous research has shown that pomegranate juice is rich in active antioxidants and its compounds may slow growth of human breast and prostate cancer cells.
“The results of this study suggest that pomegranate intake may be a viable strategy for preventing breast cancer,” said Chen.
Study authors included Yanjung Zhang, Ph.D., Navindra Seeram, Ph.D., and David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., from the David Geffen School of Medicine’s Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Possessing a navy hue and a powerful punch, the blueberry is one of the most potent and popular disease fighters available. Now, City of Hope researchers have found another weapon to add to the blueberry’s arsenal of disease-fighting properties: the ability to control tumor growth, decrease metastasis and induce cell death in triple-negative breast cancer cells.
Results of a recent study build further evidence for the cancer-fighting power of blueberries. The so-called “super food” showed significant activity against breast tumors, according to City of Hope scientists who reported their research in The Journal of Nutrition.

Blueberries have long been deemed a potent part of the diet because of the brightly colored compounds called flavonoids and proanthocyanidins they contain.

Previous studies have shown that these compounds can affect growth and death in healthy cells as well as fight damaging chemical byproducts called free radicals. Scientists thought that these abilities might mean the compounds could be effective against cancer as well.

Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology at City of Hope and senior author on the paper, has shown in past studies that blueberry juice could inhibit cancer cell survival and growth in the lab.

The latest research went one step further and tested concentrated blueberry powder against aggressive cancer cells in mice.

Chen and the team performed two studies. In the first study, the scientists fed three groups of mice a diet that contained either no blueberry powder, low levels of blueberry powder or high levels of it.

They found that tumor size decreased significantly in mice fed blueberry powder compared to similar mice that ate no blueberry. Importantly, molecular analysis showed that blueberry consumption altered expression of genes important to inflammation, cancer and metastasis (spread of cancer) in way that would lower cancer risk.

The second study compared cancer metastasis, or spread, among mice fed blueberry to metastasis in mice that ate no blueberry. Like the first study, the results showed a significant decrease in metastasis in mice that ate blueberry powder compared to those that did not.
Based on these promising results, further studies are being carried out to study blueberries' cancer-fighting abilities and its potential in preventing or treating breast cancer in women.
In the video below, Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., talks about his research into blueberries' cancer-fighting abilities


Cinnamon is one of the most ancient spices in human history, and if it’s not the most popular, it soon may be. Researchers have found that the aromatic spice appears to have unique cancer-stunting properties.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of a small evergreen tree. Reporting in the journal Carcinogenesis, scientists in City of Hope’s Department of Molecular Medicine showed that extracts of the spice may be able to block the growth of blood vessels in tumors.
Tumors need a constant supply of new blood vessels to bring them nourishment to keep growing. So, they continually promote new blood vessel growth, a process called angiogenesis.
Knowing this, researchers are constantly searching for compounds that can block angiogenesis. Every now and then, the hard work pays off.
“We found that a water-based extract from cinnamon was a potent angiogenesis inhibitor,” said Wei Wen, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine and senior author on the study.
The cinnamon extract works by interfering with VEGF, short for vascular endothelial growth factor. VEGF is a protein that promotes angiogenesis. It can be highly active in tumors.
VEGF works by connecting to one or both of its protein receptors, called VEGFR1 and VEGFR2. These receptors stick out from the surface of cells. When VEGF binds to them, they activate a cascade of biochemical reactions that lead to blood vessel growth.
In lab experiments, Wen and her team found that the extract of cinnamon blocked VEGFR2, preventing VEGF from binding to the receptor. That, in turn, stopped angiogenesis, and that’s bad news for tumors.
The study was part of the group’s ongoing search for natural compounds that can prevent VEGF from binding to its receptors. Researchers are interested in finding drugs that target VEGF to choke the flow of blood to tumors, explained Wen. But side effects from these drugs can be difficult on patients, which limits their long-term use.
Wen believes finding naturally occurring VEGF inhibitors is a promising alternative approach.
“Plus, since these substances are from our normal diet, we already know they are safe,” she added.
Wen’s search for natural VEGF inhibitors previously resulted in her discovery of VEGF-blocking ability in grape seed extract, a popular nutritional supplement. Wen hopes to study the cinnamon extract in mice with tumors to determine if it can block angiogenesis and slow or stop tumor growth.

Grape Seed Extract

For years, scientists, doctors and wine fans have debated the idea that red wine can help reduce the risk of heart disease. The jury is still out on that claim, but research being done at City of Hope is revealing that grapes and grape products may help fight certain kinds of cancer.
Researchers in City of Hope’s divisions of Tumor Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine have been studying grape seed extract and found that it blocks the body’s production of vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF.
VEGF is an important protein that helps new blood vessels grow and is often found in cancer tumors, which needs the new vessels to fuel their uncontrolled growth.
Blocking VEGF, in turn, could strangle those tumors by keeping them from getting the blood and oxygen they need. It is a strategy that has already proven effective against colorectal and kidney tumors.
Additional City of Hope research has indicated grape seed extract can lower estrogen levels. Estrogen plays a major role in the development of breast cancer.
Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., leads the City of Hope team that uncovered a connection between grapes and estrogen. In 2003, he and his colleagues published research identifying certain compounds in red wine that can limit estrogen production.
Promising as all tese results are, none of our scientists’ findings suggest that drinking wine or taking grape seed extract as a nutritional supplement is a tool for preventing cancer. Further research is needed to show its potential in treating or preventing cancers in human.

Superfoods Recipe Collection

The first step in fighting cancer is preventing it before it starts. That’s why City of Hope researchers are studying the cancer-fighting potential in the foods we eat – and they’re finding some sweet possibilities in five delicious “superfoods.” Help us share this new menu that may fight cancer!













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