Scientists Say There’s a Food Preservative That Kills Cancer

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Brie is one of the many cheeses that can contain nisin.
Brie is one of the many cheeses that can contain nisin. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Food preservatives aren’t exactly winning popularity contests these days, but a new study claims that one can magically destroy cancer cells. Researchers at the University of Michigan say nisin, a peptide naturally produced by the bacteria Lactococcus lactis and added to cheeses like cheddar, Brie, or Camembert, as well as processed meats, worked wonders on mice with head and neck tumors. The paper, which was just published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, says the preservative killed between 70 and 80 percent of cancer cells in just nine weeks. Granted, in order to wreak this havoc on malignant growths, mice had to ingest what the study ominously calls “nisin milk shakes,” but in this age of ready-mixed Soylent bottles, that may be an acceptable drawback, especially because the nisin also proved potent against superbugs, those mutant antibiotic-resistant bacteria growing legion thanks to factory farming.

In fact, lead researcher Yvonne Kapila says, scientists have yet to find any bacterial microbe that’s resistant to nisin, which is why it’s so good at preserving processed foods susceptible to bacterial infection. She says she’s observed nisin’s handiwork on tumors at lower doses, but this time her team used a highly purified version in an amount roughly 20 times greater than what occurs in any food, thereby doubling the effectiveness. (Which seems to maybe present dosing questions: She says that equates to a 150-pound person taking a pill the size of about 23 Advil.)

The next step for nisin is a clinical trial. The preservative is described by Kapila’s team as being “colorless” and “tasteless,” so maybe there are worse things than a milk shake full of it.

[University of Michigan]

Study Says Food Preservative Kills Cancer