Research and disease

Chilean scientists analyze plants that ward off breast cancer

Dr. Andrei Tchernitchin at the Universidad de Chile is exploring phytoestrogens in Chilean plants and their effect on women’s health.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 Category: Education - Technology - Enviroment
Soybeans possess high amounts of cancer-preventing phytoestrogens, and scientists are now studying w Soybeans possess high amounts of cancer-preventing phytoestrogens, and scientists are now studying whether Chilean plants possess similar properties. Photo: gonzales2010 / Flickr

Each year about 1.4 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed worldwide, and more than 450,000 women die from the disease. According to the Chilean Health Ministry, almost four women die of the disease every day in Chile.


These startling statistics are driving the research of Dr. Andrei Tchernitchin, a scientist who is exploring plant hormones that could help to prevent breast cancer in women. Dr. Tchernitchin is Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Health at Colegio Médico de Chile and professor at the Universidad de Chile.  


Dr. Tchernitchinen’s research at the Universidad de Chile is centered around the fact that there are fewer cases of breast cancer in Asia than in other parts of the world.


While shared genetics are a factor, migration patterns show that Asian women who adopted diets outside of their home countries have increased their likelihood of getting cancer. This occurs, for example, within the Japanese population in the United States, which experiences a very high mortality rate from breast cancer at levels similar to the rest of the U.S. population.


Dr. Tchernitchin explained to El Naveghable that the answer is not in the genes, but in the environment. A diet rich in foods with high rates of phytoestrogens - an estrogen-like hormone - is what makes the difference. Soybeans, a staple of the traditional Asian diet, possess high amounts of phytoestrogens. As a woman's natural estrogen levels begin to drop after menopause, these phytoestrogens may act as a natural estrogen replacement and provide benefits that may help prevent breast cancer.


Dr. Tchernitchin is now exploring levels of phytoestrogens in Chilean plants. Her team was awarded a research grant through the Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (National Commission of Scientific and Technological Research), and they are now pursuing the task of finding specific estrogens in Chilean plant species.


"One of the ideas that began with our research was to find and test Chilean plants. Furthermore, we have been able to develop a method that enables us to evaluate separate forms of the responses of estrogen in every receptor,” Dr. Tchernitchin told El Naveghable.


Dr. Tchernitchin presented her research in a lecture titled "Phytoestrogens and their protective effect on the health of women" at the 9th International Congress on Complementary Medicine at the Universidad de Chile on August 31 and September 1.  

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