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NMU 25 – Protease Inhibitors in Cancer Prevention

Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No. 25 Sept 27, 2016

with Dr. James Meschino


Research Topic: Protease Inhibitors in Cancer Prevention

Source: Journal Nutrition and Cancer 2012

I want to bring your attention to an important group of food-based nutrients that demonstrate important anti-cancer properties.These nutrients are known as Protease Inhibitors. There is a very powerful and well researched protease inhibitor found in soy beans and soy products of all kinds, known as the Bowman-Birk protease inhibitor. Recent studies show that many other beans and peas also contain protease inhibitors that are shown to inhibit important steps in cancer development. Protease inhibitors are known to combat cancer by preventing the synthesis of key proteins required for cancer cells to divide and invade neighbouring tissues and organs. They have also been shown to block the initiation of the cancer process and to destroy premalignant cells. The Bowman-Birk inhibitor found in soybeans and soy products has shown remarkable results in this regard when tested against numerous types of human cancer cell lines and in many animal-based cancer models. Remarkably, the Bowman-Birk inhibitor does not interfere with function and replication of normal, healthy cells. In other words, it helps destroy cancer cells and precancerous cells, but not normal, healthy cells.

The question has been whether other legumes, besides soy beans, contain appreciable amounts of protease inhibitors that have an ability to inhibit cancer development and growth.  A study published in the journal, Nutrition and Cancer, in 2012, has given us some important answers to these questions.The study showed that the protease inhibitors found in chickpeas significantly inhibited the viability of certain breast cancer cells, as well both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells at concentrations that were reasonable. In addition, kidney beans (200, 400 μg/ml), soy beans (50, 100 μg/ml) and mung beans (100, 200 μg/ml) protease inhibitors inhibited the growth of certain types of prostate cancer cells. The researchers concluded these findings suggest protease inhibitors from chick peas, kidney beans, and mungbeans may possess similar anticancer properties to that of the soybean Bowman-Birk protease inhibitor, and deserve further study as possible cancer preventive agents.

In my view, chick peas, kidney beans and other legumes are already known to play an important role in regulating blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, providing health-promoting fiber to the large bowel and supplying extra protein to the diet. In much of the Western world we have moved away from the consumption of beans and peas. They are not typically a main staple of the modern diet. One of the important things you can do to enhance your health status on many levels is to replace starchy foods – like breads, pasta, rice and potatoes – with beans and peas, on a regular basis. If we look at health data from other countries, where beans and peas are a main feature of the diet, as well the experimental research that exists, it suggests that one additional way to reduce risk of certain types of breast, prostate, colon and other cancers, is to include more beans and peas in your daily diet. This dietary adjustment would also help to reduce risk of heart disease, prevent and help better manage diabetes and high blood sugar problems, and improve weight management.

I’ve included the scientific reference on protease inhibitors in the text below.

So think about how you can include more beans and peas in your diet. It’s an important consideration for your long-term health.


Magee, P.J. et al. Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and Other Plant-Derived Protease Inhibitor Concentrates Inhibit Breast and Prostate Cancer Cell Proliferation In Vitro., Nutr. and Cancer, 2012. Vol 64. No. 5, pp741-748

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great!

Dr. Meschino

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