Women's Health

The Link Between Onions and Ovarian Cancer

The Link Between Onions and Ovarian Cancer

It has been widely known that onions have high levels of minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins and low levels of calories. This vegetable has previously received quite a lot of attention for its researched health benefits. Not only does the onion help with decreasing the symptoms of depression, but it also helps lower the risk of certain cancers. A new study that was published in Scientific Reports from the Kumamoto University in Japan may point to a compound found in onions that can decrease the effects of ovarian cancer.

There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, but according to the World Health Organization, the most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer. Most women with this type of ovarian cancer only live for about an additional 5 years after being diagnosed.

While the number of new cases of epithelial ovarian cancer ranks 10th among all female malignancies, deaths related to this type of ovarian cancer rank number 5 in the United States. About 80 percent of the patients with epithelial ovarian cancer who tried an initial chemotherapy treatment had a relapse. Due to the high rate of diagnoses, high rate of death, and limited chance of recovery, researchers began looking into the natural curing effects of foods, such as the natural compound found in onions, called onionin A, on epithelial ovarian cancer.

The Study

The team of researchers used a pre-clinical model of epithelial ovarian cancer to study the effects that onionin A had on it and found that by introducing onionin A, they could slow down the growth of epithelial ovarian cancer.

The team of researchers also wanted to study the effects that onionin A had on myeloid-derived suppressor cells and their pro-tumor activities, which the researchers said are linked to suppressing the anti-tumor immune response in the lymphocytes of epithelial ovarian cancer patients. The researchers found that after they introduced onionin A, they were able to inhibit the activities of the myeloid-derived suppressor cells, which suggest that it could allow the hosts lymphocytes to fight cancer cells with the anti-tumor immune response.

Results of the research study suggest that onionin A may help to enhance anti-cancer drugs by boosting their ability to prevent the production or growth of cancer cells.

The team of researchers expanded their research by experimenting on a mouse model with ovarian cancer. The researchers administered the onionin A through oral dosing. Results of the mouse model experiments showed the onionin A prevented the ovarian cancer tumors from progressing quickly and as previously suggested, interrupted and slowed the pro-tumor activity of the myeloid cells.

The researchers stated that onionin A directly suppressed the proliferation of cancer cells. In addition to suppressing the cancer cells, the researchers were able to effectively reduce the growth and spreading of ovarian cancer cells as induced by a co-culture with the human macrophages.

The results of the study led the researchers to suggest that the direct cytotoxicity of onionin A against cancer cells and suppression of the pro-tumor activity of tumor-associated macrophages makes it an effective additive in the treatment of patients with ovarian cancer using anti-cancer medications.

According to the researchers, there were no observable side effects in their mouse specimens who they had administered the onionin A to. The researchers strongly believe that an oral onionin A supplement could help cancer patients who are already undergoing treatment. According to this team of researchers, this study was the first of its kind to research and report the anti-ovarian cancer effect of onionin A.

In a previous research study, this same research team was able to demonstrate how onionin A suppressed the pro-tumor activity of a patient's myeloid cells. Onions are also suggested to help fight the formation of certain free radicals that are known to cause cancer due to their high levels of the antioxidant, vitamin C.

Another Natural Source to Help Cancer Patients: Gut Bacteria

Additional recent research demonstrated that gut bacteria has direct effects on cancer patients. While some gut bacteria hinder the growth of cancer tumors, other gut bacteria promote the growth of cancer tumors. Until recently, there was no clear distinction between the gut microbes that helped cancer patients and the gut bacteria that made things worse. Now there is actually research that helps identify at least two separate species of gut bacteria that can activate immune cells which help to boost the anti-cancer effects of a common chemotherapy drug.

The team of researchers included co-senior author Dr. Mathias Chamaillard, who is the research director of the Center for Infection and Immunity of Lille at Lille University in France, and published their research results in the Immunity medical journal. This research studies the complex interrelationship and interplay of three primary aspects to effectively fighting cancer in patients: the immune system, chemotherapy, and gut bacteria. The immune system in the body has natural mechanisms that fight against cancer, such as valuable T cells that target, attack, and kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is a very effective tool in the treatment of cancer using certain drugs. Chemotherapy works to effectively stop or inhibit the growth of cancer cells, which otherwise would grow and divide rapidly. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink cancer tumors and ultimately cure cancer, reducing the chance of remission, and stop or inhibit its growth and spreading to other parts in the body.

Scientists have recently discovered that there may be trillions of other microbes that live in our bodies that do play essential roles in the fighting of disease and the preservation of health. An important example is the bacteria in our guts which not only help us to digest the food we eat, but also produce byproducts (metabolites) that help prevent infection and improve the overall function of our immune system.

In this research study, Chamaillard and colleagues were able to identify two specific types of gut bacteria that help to activate the T cells and ultimately boost the anti-cancer effect of the chemotherapy drug, cyclophosphamide. These two bacteria have been identified as Enterococcus hirae and Barnesiella intestinihominis.

In addition to identifying these two special species of gut bacteria, the team of researchers were also able to predict that since the bacteria help to boost the immune response, this could suggest longer periods of survival without cancer progression in patients who are being treated with chemo-immunotherapy for even advanced stages of lung and ovarian cancers.

Chamaillard suggested that the findings may show that it could be possible to improve the overall design of cancer treatments either by boosting the anti-cancer effects of antibiotics, or by supplementing the effects of oncomicrobiotics (or their bioactive metabolites). In other words, the researchers believe that with the findings of these species of gut bacteria, scientists may be able to find a way to improve anti-cancer drugs.

In the beginning of this research study, the team of researchers used mouse specimens to study the effects that each of the two species of gut bacteria had when added with chemotherapy. The researchers specifically discovered that an oral administration of E. hirae helped to activate T cell production and responses which, when added with the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, could help curb the growth of cancer tumors. The team of researchers was also able to demonstrate that when an oral treatment of B. intestiniominis was administered, they were able to spur the production and effectiveness of T cells and were able to infiltrate the tumors in their mouse specimens.

After the team of researchers completed their findings on their mouse specimens, they moved on to human studies. The team studied 38 patients who had advanced stages of ovarian and lung cancer and were also being treated with chemo-immunotherapy. Specifically, the team analyzed that participants' T cell responses. The researchers were able to demonstrate that they were able to predict the amount of time that patients lived without cancer progression based on the specific effects that these two species of gut bacteria had on T cell responses.

The team plans on continuing their research studies to find more ways that gut bacteria may one day help improve the effectiveness of cancer-fighting medicines.


Ellis, M. (2016). Onion compound suppresses ovarian cancer cell proliferation. [Web]. In Medical News Today. Retrieved from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313643.php

Paddock, C. (2016). Gut bacteria boost effectiveness of common chemotherapy drug. [Web]. In Medical News Today. Retrieved from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313318.php?bl