The Potential Epigenetic and Anticancer Power of Dietary Flavones

epigenetic anticancer power of dietary flavones

Eating more plant flavones could reduce your cancer risk, suggests a recent study. By inhibiting epigenetic marks that play a central role in the formation of cancer, some foods may be able to help stave off this widespread disease. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1.6 million new cancer cases in 2016. Interestingly, many foods that are easily accessible have been shown to elicit epigenetic effects that may actually protect against the development of cancer.

For instance, a chemical in broccoli epigenetically slowed the growth of tumor cells. Cauliflower, green tea, fish and other foods are linked to changes to the epigenome that could reduce someone’s disease risk and improve well-being. Now, we may be able to add another item to the list of possible anti-cancer dietary agents: a flavonoid subclass known as flavones, widely distributed in herbs, vegetables, and fruits.

Published in PLOS One, the study illuminates the potential epigenetic power that flavonoids could have fighting against cancer and other diseases. In one experiment, the team used a nuclear extraction kit to isolate nuclear extracts from cancerous cells that were treated with flavones, including Apigenin, Chrysin and Luteolin. Then, using EpiGentek’s DNA Methyltransferase Activity/Inhibition Assay Kit, they found that flavones reduced the activity of an enzyme called DNA methyltransferase (DNMT).

DNMT is responsible for catalyzing the epigenetic process known as DNA methylation by transferring a methyl group to DNA. Adding these marks to the DNA is a normal process, but aberrant DNA methylation could lead to the formation of cancer. These researchers showed that plant flavones can reduce levels of DNMT and reverse an excess of methylation, or DNA hypermethylation.

Curious to know how different foods may epigenetically influence health? Check out our e-book Epigenetics in Life: What We Eat, which cites over 20+ epigenetic studies.

In another experiment, the group discovered that dietary flavones decreased the level of histone methyltransferase (HMT), an enzyme that adds methyl groups to histone proteins. They measured the levels of HMT by first extracting histone proteins and then following the protocol for EpiGentek’s EpiQuik Global Tri-Methyl Histone H3K27 Quantification Kit (Colorimetric). This epigenetic mechanism is known as histone methylation. The trimethylation of histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27me3) is a major mechanism of gene inactivation that can silence tumor suppressor genes, which can give rise to cancer.

“Our present study clearly demonstrated that flavones have the ability to reverse both DNA methylation and the trimethylation of lysine 27 at the H3 histone both in cultured cells and in an artificial in vitro system,” concluded the researchers.

These results make you wonder: could parsley be much more than just a garnish? Plant flavones might possess the ability to act as dual inhibitors of DNMTs and HMTs. We are often discovering new reasons why some foods may benefit the body and allow us to live healthier lives. Alongside exercise and cutting out bad habits, proper diet has been supported as a way to help prevent disease risk. Eating foods that contain flavones, such as parsley, peppers, and celery, might be able to epigenetically reduce cancer risk. Although their potential as anticancer therapeutics still require further exploration, the results pose intriguing questions regarding the epigenetic health benefits and anticancer properties of food.


Source: Kanwal, R., et al. (2016). Dietary Flavones as Dual Inhibitors of DNA Methyltransferases and Histone Methyltransferases. PLOS One. 11(9).

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About Bailey Kirkpatrick 164 Articles
Bailey Kirkpatrick is a science writer with a background in epigenetics and psychology with a passion for conveying scientific concepts to the wider community. She enjoys speculating about the implications of epigenetics and how it might impact our perception of wellbeing and the development of novel preventative strategies. When she’s not combing through research articles, she also enjoys discovering new foods, taking nighttime strolls, and discussing current events over a barrel-aged sour beer or cold-brewed coffee.

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