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A drink with as little as one gram of lemon grass contains enough citral to prompt cancer cells to commit suicide in the test tube. Israeli researchers find way to make cancer cells self-destruct - Ben Gurion University At first, Benny Zabidov, an Israeli agriculturalist who grows greenhouses full of lush spices on a pastoral farm in Kfar Yedidya in the Sharon region, couldn't understand why so many cancer patients from around the country were showing up on his doorstep asking for fresh lemon grass. It turned out that their doctors had sent them.
"They had been told to drink eight glasses of hot water with fresh lemon grass steeped in it on the days that they went for their radiation and chemotherapy treatments," Zabidov told ISRAEL21c. "And this is the place you go to in Israel for fresh lemon grass."
It all began when researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev discovered last year that the lemon aroma in herbs like lemon grass kills cancer cells in-vitro, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. The research team was led by Dr. Rivka Ofir and Prof. Yakov Weinstein, incumbent of the Albert Katz Chair in CellDifferentiation and Malignant Diseases, from the Department of Microbiology andImmunology at BGU.
Citral is the key component that gives the lemony aroma and taste in
several herbal plants such as lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), melissa (Melissa officinalis) and verbena (Verbena officinalis.) According to Ofir, the study found that citral causes cancer cells to "commit suicide: using apoptosis, a mechanism called programmed cell death." A drink with as little as one gram of lemon grass contains enough citral to prompt the cancer cells to commit suicide in the test tube. The BGU investigators checked the influence of the citral on cancerous cells by adding them to both cancerous cells and normal cells that were grown in a petri dish. The quantity added in the concentrate was equivalent to the amount contained in a cup of regular tea using one gram of lemon herbs in hot water. While the citral killed the cancerous cells, the normal cells remained unharmed.
The findings were published in the scientific journal *Planta Medica*, which highlights research on alternative and herbal remedies. Afterwards, the discovery was featured in the popular Israeli press. Why does it work? Nobody knows for certain, but the BGU scientists have a theory. "In each cell in our body, there is a genetic program which causes programmed cell death. When something goes wrong, the cells divide with no control and become cancer cells. In normal cells, when the cell discovers that the control system is not operating correctly - for example, when it recognises that a cell contains faulty genetic material following cell division - it triggers cell death," explains Weinstein. "This research may explain the medical benefit of these herbs."