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Natural food additive prevents skin cancer in mice

A compound in the additive prevents the formation of cancer cells.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 29, 2016 at 9:56 AM

TUCSON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- A compound in the natural food additive annatto was found to prevent skin cancer cells from forming in mice exposed to UV radiation in a recent study at the University of Arizona.

Researchers at the University of Arizona Cancer Center who discovered a compound, bixin, has anti-cancer properties, work to identify molecules in plants that may prevent or treat skin cancer, according to a press release.

Annatto, used for food coloring and as a condiment in Latin America, is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.

After finding that bixin activates a pathway in cells that strengthens them against exposure to carcinogens, researchers conducted a study with mice, published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, to find whether it could actually prevent cancer.

Researchers exposed two groups of mice to ultraviolet radiation, injecting some with bixin, finding those that received the shot had much less severe damage to their skin.

Unlike sunscreen, bixin protects the skin from inside the body. The compound would not be the first ingestible substance thought to prevent skin cancer as researchers at Ohio State University found the compound gadusol, produced and secreted by birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, also protects skin from UV rays.

Bixin also would not be the first natural additive to protect against cancer, since researchers the University of Michigan found the preservative nisin, which grows on dairy products, can stop or slow the growth of squamous cell head and neck cancer.

The Arizona researchers said the next step in their research with bixin is to test its effects in humans. They said clinical trials may happen sooner because the compound is already approved for human consumption.

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