Historically, natural products have provided an endless source of medicine. Prior to 1897 plant-derived products dominated the medicinal landscape for thousands of years almost unchallenged. Since then, in the field of cancer research, a vast amount of biologically active compounds found in plants have been shown to affect various parts of signal transduction pathways including gene expression, cell cycle progression, proliferation, cell mortality, metabolism, and apoptosis (programmed cell death).
With Alkaloids being amongst the most important active components in plants, some of these compounds have already been ‘denatured’ and developed into chemotherapeutic drugs. All vegetables contain alkaloids which form part of a plant’s defense mechanisms, existing in all parts of the plant to protect against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects, as well as possessing a variety of pharmacological and nutritional properties.
Glycoalkaloids on the other hand are a little more obscure, yet invaluable in the realms of their chemical structure, ‘alkaloids bonded with sugar molecules’, which should make these compounds even more effective as anti-carcinogenic agents due to cancers attraction to sugar. Glycoalkaloids are bitter compounds which are found throughout certain plants, but their concentrations are especially high in leaves, flowers, and unripe fruits, making them readily accessible in their natural form.
As Glycoalkaloids are natural pesticides produced by ‘nightshade plants’, which includes the tomato plant, the mechanism being proposed here is that: With cancer cells uptake of glucose being much higher than that of normal cells, in doing so they will fatally draw in the alkaloids, which are the pesticide compounds of the plant known to inhibit cancerous growth.
‘Trojan Horse ideology’ appears to be the main mechanism at play here, used as a sneaky way for cancer cells to uptake these natural cancer fighting chemicals by latching onto the sugar molecules they need to survive and grow. It would probably then come as no surprise that a number of studies have already discovered that ‘specific glycoalkaloids’, as found in tomato plants, are able to ‘effectively kill or suppress the growth of human breast, colon, liver, and stomach cancer cells’.
Interestingly enough, researchers are saying they still don’t fully understand the Glycoalkaloid mechanism of action against cancer cells, but with the fact that ‘glucose feeds cancer‘ and alkaloids have already been developed into chemotherapeutic drugs, this leaves no doubt in my mind of the urgent need for more in-depth research to be carried out in this area. In the meantime, ‘whilst research is playing catch up’, we can get a head start by doing our own research and begin to become more acquainted with the ‘whole tomato plant’ and not just it’s fully ripened fruit.