For more than 2,000 years, people have used vinegar to preserve and flavor food, disinfect wounds and treat a wide range of ailments, from stomach aches to diabetes.
Yet modern scientists remain skeptical of these storied medicinal benefits, often dismissing vinegar-based treatments as folk remedies with questionable proof behind them.
However, a recent study published in the December 2014 issue of Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggests this perception soon may change — especially when it comes to mesothelioma treatment.
“Acetic acid is a powerful anticancer agent,” wrote Susumu Okabe, lead author of the study. “Topical application of acetic acid may be a feasible approach for the treatments of gastric cancer and possibly other malignancies.”
Okabe’s team reached this conclusion after adding a low concentration of acetic acid to a Petri dish containing two mesothelioma cell lines cultivated from human patients.
The study also explored the mild acid’s effectiveness against stomach cancer, using cells from humans and mice models. When researchers increased the acid dose, a greater number of cancer cells died.
Okabe and colleagues tested several concentrations of acetic acid, observing how cancerous and healthy cells responded over various intervals of time.
A low concentration of 0.5 percent acid triggered an impressive anti-cancer effect on the two mesothelioma cell lines tested. Nearly all cancer cells died after only 10 minutes of exposure.
The authors suggest acetic acid, alone or in combination with chemotherapy, could be a potential treatment for mesothelioma, stomach cancer and peritoneal cancer (cancer of the lining of the abdomen).
They say it may be feasible for doctors to inject acetic acid and a chemotherapeutic agent directly to the site of mesothelioma tumors.
“Malignant pleural mesothelioma is known to be resistant to chemotherapy, and several new treatment strategies have been suggested and tested in clinical trial[s],” Okabe said.
Clinical trials, or research studies involving human patients, play a crucial role in advancing mesothelioma therapy. Improving chemotherapy is a leading goal of research because most patients respond poorly to this form of treatment, and long-term survival is rare.
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It is important to understand the results of this study do not mean it is safe or effective for patients to manage their cancer with common household vinegar.
The research team used concentrated acetic acid, not vinegar, and applied it directly to mesothelioma cells in the lab. There is no proof that consuming vinegar helps fight or prevent cancer. In fact, there are multiple reports of injuries and deaths related to drinking vinegar.
In the study, Okabe explains that exposing stomach tissue to acetic acid can cause deep, chronic ulcers in animals within three to five days.
Although his team reports that stomach cancer cells are more sensitive to acetic acid than healthy cells of the stomach — a promising sign — further studies are needed to confirm whether acetic acid can be translated into safe and effective treatments for cancer patients.
Moving forward, researchers hope to uncover the reason acetic acid is so effective against mesothelioma and stomach cancer cells. Okabe explains “the molecular mechanism by which acetic acid induces cell death remains unclear.”
Many cancer therapies work by triggering a natural biological process called apoptosis, which causes the malignant cells to self-destruct. Interestingly enough, the researchers say it is unlikely this process is responsible for acetic acid-induced cell death.
Okabe also suggests researchers should test the acetic acid approach in combination with a variety of chemotherapy drugs in animal models. He recommends several agents currently used in chemotherapy for mesothelioma and stomach cancer, including:
If future studies show acetic acid can improve the anti-cancer effects of any of these drugs without major complications, doctors and researchers could be one step closer to better treatment strategies for mesothelioma.