Seems like not too many people have heard about luteolin, a nutrient found in fruits and vegetables. But it’s a nutrient you should know about. The latest studies of its health benefits have revealed remarkable anti-cancer effects that might be able to help you in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
What’s more, this is only the beginning of luteolin’s health benefits. Let’s take a closer look.
Luteolin is a flavonoid. Flavonoids are substances that plants manufacture to defend against insects, limit cellular damage from oxidative stress and provide pigmentation—in other words, what makes a strawberry red and a carrot orange.
As a nutrient, luteolin is impressively versatile in the way it improves a person’s well-being. Many researchers now believe that the many health-promoting effects of luteolin and other flavonoids are one of the chief reasons that folks who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables generally enjoy better health than people who eat diets that depend more on processed foods — whose flavonoid content is basically nil.
Luteolin improves cell signaling
Your cells don’t quietly perform their daily tasks individually, all by themselves, minding their own business. Instead, they are constantly signaling each other about their activities and what they need to stay functional.
These signals are necessary because the life of a complex organism like a human is a team game that requires cells to work together and coordinate their efforts. Within this intricate system, however, things can go wrong that, instead of helping cells function better, make them dysfunctional and at risk of disease.
For example, signals that activate immune cells for killing off pathogens and repairing damaged tissue can keep the body safe from harm. But those communications are supposed to stop once these jobs are done. But in some circumstances, the signals can continue past the need for immune activity.
The result of these signals continuing way past their necessity produces chronic inflammation. And when that happens, the persistent chemical signals that impinge on cell membranes can cause epigenetic changes to the DNA within cells that switch on mutations that lead to cancer.1
Stops cancer formation, growth
Along with that, chronic inflammation, according to researchers, can become a “perfect storm” that keeps cancer growing and spreading. So, along with helping cancer begin, chronic inflammation can help cancer cells survive attacks from other immune cells, promote the metatastic spread of cancer throughout the body, and aid tumors in growing new blood vessels to provide cancer cells with extra nutrients they need to multiply and reproduce.2
However, research shows that luteolin can intervene in this destructive process and sometimes turn it off. A study in Asia, for instance, demonstrates that luteolin can block cell signaling that colon cancer cells need to speed their growth.
This research, and other studies, indicate that colon cancer cells require signals from Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) to keep expanding and spreading. But in this recent investigation, luteolin was found to hold back the release of IGF by the colon cancer cells and also shrink the number of receptors the cells possessed that enabled them to receive the malignant signals for uncontrolled reproduction.3
According to researcher Jung Han Yoon Park, PhD, “Blocking these pathways stops cancer cells from dividing and leads to cell death.”
Researchers have found a similar type of effect produced by luteolin in prostate cancer.
Slows prostate cancer growth
Many men receive androgen deprivation therapy to treat prostate cancer. This therapy entails lowering the levels of testosterone in a man’s body because this androgen can send signals to prostate tumors that stimulate its growth and spread.
However, some prostate cancers are considered “androgen independent.” That means that even when hormones are at minimal levels, prostate tumors continue to enlarge dangerously. These malignancies are also referred to as “castration-resistant.”
Researchers have found that, in the absence of androgen, these “independent” tumors get signals from IGF that promote their expansion.4 But a study at Nagoya City University in Japan shows that here, too, luteolin can block the actions of IGF. As luteolin does this, it also can induce apoptosis in the cancer cells – leading them to undergo programmed self-destruction.
Furthermore, the Japanese researchers found that luteolin can enhance the cancer-killing ability of chemotherapy used against prostate cancer. Plus, it reduces harmful oxidative stress in prostate cells, a reduction that can lower the chances that the cells become cancerous in the first place.5
This is only the beginning of luteolin’s health benefits.
Luteolin does more than fight cancer
Luteolin can help your health in many other ways. For instance, studies show that luteolin may:
- Keep bones stronger: Studies show that luteolin can limit the breakdown of bone tissue in the body and potentially reduce the chances of osteoporosis. Lab tests demonstrate that by altering several different signaling pathways that affect the construction of new bone and the tearing down of older tissue, luteolin, say the researchers, “could reduce bone loss.”6
- Offset skin aging and sun damage: Tests of luteolin’s effects on skin cells reveal that it can limit age spots caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays and reduce wrinkling. Researchers say it probably accomplishes these types of effects by moderating inflammation caused by ultraviolet light, offsetting oxidative stress and preventing DNA damage. It can also firm up skin by promoting collagen synthesis.7
- Reduce health problems linked to obesity: Lab tests indicate that luteolin prevents metabolic issues linked to being overweight. The research shows it reduces liver damage caused by excess fat tissue and improves insulin sensitivity by supporting better pancreas function. It also may help with weight loss and improve heart health.8
My take on luteolin
Reading much of the research into the benefits of luteolin is a reminder that many of the widespread health dangers we experience can be attributed to the typical American diet and its lack of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory nutrients such as luteolin.
Of course, for optimal health, you should also be physically active and control your weight. But getting more luteolin—and other healthy nutrients—in your diet is a very good idea. And if you want to get more luteolin into your meals and snacks, some of the best sources include peppers, celery, parsley, broccoli, onions, carrots, cabbages, and apples (mostly in the skin).
What’s more, luteolin supplements are available. Should you decide to take one, you should still eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, so you consume plenty of the other disease-fighting flavonoids, too!