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Cysteine containing chewing gum for the prevention of upper digestive tract cancers?

Researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, suggest that cysteine containing tablets and chewing gum can be a new way for the prevention of upper digestive tract cancers.

It has been estimated that in developed countries up to 80 % of the cancers of mouth, pharynx and oesophagus are caused by smoking and alcohol drinking. According Finnish researchers these epidemiological findings can at least in part be explained by the fact that alcohol drinking and smoking result in a strong local exposure of the upper digestive tract to acetaldehyde, and they have proved that acetaldehyde exposure can be markedly prevented by a tablet that releases amino acid, l-cysteine.

The research group of professor Mikko Salaspuro, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, Finland, published already in 1990s a hypothesis, that microbes representing normal human digestive tract flora produce locally acetaldehyde from ethanol and that this may expose them for an increased risk of digestive tract cancers.

The hypothesis was strongly supported by Japanese studies showing that digestive tract cancer risk is markedly increased in Japanese drinkers, who have a decreased ability to remove acetaldehyde because of a gene mutation. The cause and effect relationship was subsequently strongly supported by a novel finding of the Finnish research group showing that after a small dose of alcohol Asians with the above mentioned gene mutation have 2-3 times higher concentrations of acetaldehyde in their saliva than those with the normal acetaldehyde removing enzyme. Most recently, a research group from NIH reported a mechanism that induces DNA-damage in those acetaldehyde concentrations that are found in the saliva after drinking of alcohol.

It has been known already for decades that a harmless aminoacid l-cysteine is able to bind effectively acetaldehyde and thereby eliminate its toxicity. On this basis professor Salaspuro and professor Martti Marvol
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Contact: Mikko Salaspuro
mikko.salaspuro@hus.fi
358-500-511-689
University of Helsinki
22-May-2006


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