Often dismissed as old wives’ tales, food remedies are of increasing interest to scientists. The latest examples:
GREEN TEA TREAT: Long touted for its antioxidant effects, green tea contains a compound that protects against cancer in animal studies. Molecular toxicologist Thomas Gasiewicz of the University of Rochester found that a tea chemical, epigallocatechingallate, or EGCG, binds to a cancer-promoting protein called HSP90. This changes HSP90’s shape so it can no longer set off a cascade of cancer-causing events. Gasiewicz doesn’t yet know if drinking gallons of green tea will stave off cancer. “We’ve only done this with isolated cells and with animals,” he says. “It’s not clear what it means for humans.”
RAISINS D’ÊTRE: Although full of sugars, raisins may be good for your teeth. Microbiologist Christine Wu of the University of Illinois at Chicago and her colleagues found five natural chemicals in raisins that reduce the growth of cavity- and gum-disease-causing bacteria in lab cultures. New grape strains could someday be genetically engineered to contain high levels of the compounds, although Wu says more studies are needed to show that the chemicals actually kill bacteria in the mouth.
CRANBERRY CURE: A well-known treatment for urinary tract infections in women, cranberry juice contains chemicals that inhibit bacterial growth. New research shows that cranberry juice can also beat back some viruses. In laboratory studies, biologists at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York, found the juice prevents intestinal viruses in monkeys and goats from attaching to and infecting cells. Scientists think it could be effective against many other intestinal viruses as well.