Peter Piper picked a peck of purple potatoes. If he did pick a peck of the colorful vegetable, he may have helped his health. Compounds found in purple potatoes appear to be able to kill colon cancer stem cells and limit the spread of the cancer in laboratory studies, according to researchers at Penn State University.
Baked purple-fleshed potatoes appear to be able to target colon cancer stem cells and suppress the growth of colon cancer tumors in petri dishes and in mice.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and responsible for more than 50,000 deaths annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
In the first laboratory study, the researchers found that an extract from baked purple potatoes suppressed the spread of colon cancer stem cells while increasing their deaths. They then tested the effect of whole baked purple potatoes on mice with colon cancer and found similar results. The portion size for a human would be about the same as eating a large purple-fleshed potato per day.
According to the researchers, there may be several chemicals in purple potatoes that work simultaneously in different ways to help kill the colon cancer stem cells. These chemicals include anthocyanins, chlorogenic acid, and resistant starch. Anthocyanins give the potatoes the purple color.
Resistant starch serves as a food for bacteria in the gut, which converts it to beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyric acid. Butyric acid regulates immune function in the gut, suppresses chronic inflammation, and may also help cancer cells self-destruct, according to Jairam K.P. Vanamala, associate professor of food sciences, Penn State. In addition to resistant starch, the color compounds that give potatoes, as well as other fruits and vegetables, bright colors may be effective in suppressing cancer growth, he said, in a statement from Penn State.
The researchers used a baked purple potato because they wanted to make sure the vegetables maintained their anti-cancer properties even after cooking. The next step would be to test purple potatoes in humans for disease prevention and treatment strategies. The researchers also plan to test purple potatoes against other forms of cancer.
The study was published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.