Plants and Skin Protection during Cancer Treatment: A HealthCentral Explainer

  • Natural products derived from plants may help protect the skin when it is exposed to radiation during cancer treatment, according to a new study.


    When patients undergo radiotherapy, their tumor is exposed to radiation in the form of gamma rays or X-rays. One side effect, however, is that the radiation can harm the healthy tissue of the skin that covers the tumor. This can lead to various skin-related problems and even skin cancer.


    In the study, scientists from universities in Japan, Australia, India and South Korea studied the effects of plant products on the skin during radiotherapy. They focused on three types of caffeic acid (CA), rosmarinic acid (RA) and trans-cinnamic acid (TCA)  and examined their effect on damage to the genetic material DNA, as well as how well they were able to reduce levels of damage to skin cells by gamma radiation.

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    The results of the study, published in the International Journal of Low Radiation, showed that treating human skin cells with CA, RA and TCA was able to protect the cells from gamma ray toxicity by 40, 20 and 15 percent, respectively. Researchers explained that the CA, RA and TCA compounds seemed to enhance the body’s natural DNA repair mechanisms, as well as chemically deactivate the reactive oxygen species.


    Here’s more information on the plant products examined in this study, as well as natural sources and potential benefits.


    Caffeic acid (CA)

    What is it?

    • Chemical found in many plants and foods
    • Can be found in the bark of the eucalyptus plant, a certain type of freshwater fern and in a type of mushroom
    • Possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties



    • Coffee is primary source of caffeic acid in human diet
    • Other sources of caffeic acid: apples, artichokes, berries, pears, wine, argan oil, barley grain



    • May boost athletic performance, help treat exercise-related fatigue, weight loss, cancer, HIV/AIDS, herpes, other conditions
    • Some studies suggest that it might help decrease the growth of cancer cells and viruses


    Rosmarinic acid (RA)


    What is it?

    • A polyphenol similar to caffeic acid that is found in a variety of plants
    • Possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties
    • Found in a wide variety of herbs and spices and can also be absorbed through the skin when in an ethanol base



    • Plants used commonly as culinary herbs such as basil, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme and peppermint, as well as perilla oil



    • May help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals and thereby help reduce risk for cancer
    • Some studies have shown that oral administration of rosmarinic acid may be an effective treatment for allergic asthma


    Trans-cinnamic acid (TCA)


    What is it?

    • A white crystalline odorless acid found especially in cinnamon bark and storax (a type of gum resin)
    • Used primarily in the manufacture of perfumes and medicines. Possesses antioxidant and antimicrobial properties



    • Cinnamic acid is found in the form of esters (ethyl, benzyl), various essential oils, resins and oil of cinnamon
    • Cinnamic acid derivatives (CADs) are naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables and flowers


  • Benefits

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    • Some studies have found trans-cinnamic acid to be beneficial in helping to treat certain types of cancers, including prostate and lung cancer
    • Trans-cinnamic acid has also been found to have a gastroprotective effect and aid in insulin secretion



Published On: July 30, 2014