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What is Apigenin?

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  • Written By: Helga George
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Apigenin is a polyphenol, and is one of the flavonoids found in many of the foods consumed by humans. Technically, it is a flavone with three OH groups on it. This compound is being widely studied for its anti-cancer properties. In particular, it has some anti-tumor properties that some other flavonoids lack.

Many fruits and vegetables contain this compound. It is reported to be at especially high levels in celery, parsley, Chinese cabbage, and bell peppers. Fruits that contain this flavonoid include cherries, apples, and grapes. It is also found in wine and tea, including chamomile.

Like most flavonoids, apigenin has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-spasmodic properties, and acts as an antioxidant. It is the subject of intensive research for its biological properties. The most widespread research has been for its potential to fight cancer.

There have been epidemiological studies correlating the consumption of this compound with lowered cancer rates. Also, there have been a number of studies examining the effect of this flavonoid on cell lines of various types of cancers. There have also been several studies examining its effect when combined with chemotherapy agents.

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One large study correlated apigenin consumption, along with other flavonoids, with a lowered risk of breast cancer. More recently, its consumption by women was found to lower the risk of ovarian cancer. This finding was specific for apigenin, and did not apply to other flavonoids in the study. It has also been found to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer lines. These include those in colon, breast, thyroid, skin, leukemia, and pancreas cells.

There have been mixed results when the effects of ingesting apigenin were examined for its effects on chemotherapy agents. These are chemicals that are used to kill cancer cells, although many of the cells remain resistant to the chemicals. In a study that utilized leukemia cells, this flavonoid reduced the toxicity of the chemotherapy agent, doxorubicin. That suggests that consuming apigenin would increase the severity of leukemia being treated with this agent.

With a line of human breast cancer cells, however, the opposite effect was observed. Apigenin increased the ability of the chemotherapy treatment 5-fluorouracil to fight the cancer cells. In this case, consuming this plant compound may help fight breast cancer.

The effects of this flavonoid can vary based on the dosage, however. Estrogen is a female hormone that is implicated in the development of some breast cancers, in cells that have estrogen receptors. This compound can act both as an estrogen and as an anti-estrogen. Thus, at high doses, it may actually promote the development of breast cancer.

It appears wise to limit apigenin consumption to that obtained only from foods and wine. The evidence so far suggests that the amount consumed in human diets acts to prevent cancer. Additional supplementation may not be a good idea. One negative effect of this compound is that it can affect drug metabolism by inhibiting an enzyme that acts upon many pharmaceutical drugs.

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