Four Letters You Should Know About That Are Central to Health

mtorThe Molecule that Dictates Every Cell’s Activity Level

mTOR – The Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin, or Serine/threonine protein kinase plays a central role in regulating cellular metabolism, growth, protein synthesis, motility and survival in response to hormones, growth factors, nutrients, energy and stress signals.

In biochemistry, a kinase is a type of enzyme that catalyzes (initiates) the transfer of phosphate groups (“phosphorlyation”) from high-energy, phosphate-donating molecules to specific substrates; in the case of mTOR, protein substrates containing serine, a threonine or a tyrosine.  Phosphorylation “turns protein enzymes on and off,” thereby altering their function and activity.  mTOR directly or indirectly regulates the phosphorylation of at least 800 proteins in your body.

Ok, in simple terms what the above basically means is that this special molecule controls what your cells do— your liver cells, heart cells, kidney cells, and so on. When it is too active, it promotes/ facilitates cancerous growth. If we interfere with the mTOR pathway (the steps of its formation in the body), it helps stop the formation of new blood vessels which feed the tumor. These mTOR “inhibitors” help people with pancreatic cancer and possibly induce remission, at least for awhile. This was shown in February 2011, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, entitled, “mTOR Inhibitor Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer in a Patient with Peutz–Jeghers Syndrome.”

The scientists in this particular study used a drug called everolimus (Afinitor). Other mTOR inhibitors available today include Certican and Torisel, and others are currently being developed.

Suzy Cohen, RPh, points out in her blog there are natural compounds which are known to interfere with mTOR but to a lesser extent compared to these cancer drugs. Resveratrol, found in the skin of grapes is one of them, as reported in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (November 19, 2010). Resveratrol, which is available in supplement form is a powerful herbal with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and nerve-protecting effects on the body.  But now we know that it has a weak inhibitory effect on the mTOR pathway.

Curcumin, one of the active compounds in that bright yellow Indian spice turmeric is another mTOR inhibitor. Many studies prove curcumin slows down the growth of different types of cancer. Curcumin may be helpful for pancreatitis because it reduces inflammation in the pancreas and reduces inflammatory pain-causing chemicals. This is great, but according to Suzy you may need special IVs or supplements to get it to work.

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is yet another potential mTOR inhibitor. Consisting of the dried pestels of the saffron flower, saffron is the spice (a very expensive one at that) that gives Spanish rice (paella) that yellowish color and wonderful fragrance. Saffron is also available as a supplement (by Exir). Crocetin, a carotenoid derived from saffron appears to compete with the drug gemcitabine which is one of the standard therapies for pancreatic cancer. Saffron supplements also seem to help reduce chemotherapy-induced cell damage (damage to the DNA). Remarkably, both the herb and the chemo drug compete for the same receptor site, which is the doorway into your cell.

Suzy warns that the discussion of using resveratrol, curcumin or saffron is between you and your doctor. She states, “Even though these are natural herbs with excellent safety profiles, I have no idea what’s right for you and your safety is my first concern. Ask a licensed practitioner about customizing your personal health regimen.”

That being said, I personally believe that it wouldn’t hurt to add these natural compounds to your meals on occasion. If you notice, they happen to be plant-based and have been eaten by mankind for centuries.


Posted in Nutrition.