Fresh lemon grass fields in Israel become Mecca for cancer patients
By Allison Kaplan Sommer April 02, 2006
A drink with as little as one gram of lemon grass contains enough citral to prompt cancer cells to commit suicide in the test tube.
At first, Benny Zabidov, an Israeli agriculturalist who grows greenhouses full of lush spices on a pastoral farm in Kfar Yedidya in the Sharon region, couldn't understand why so many cancer patients from around the country were showing up on his doorstep asking for fresh lemon grass. It turned out that their doctors had sent them. 'They had been told to drink eight glasses of hot water with fresh lemon grass steeped in it on the days that they went for their radiation and chemotherapy treatments,' Zabidov told ISRAEL21c. 'And this is the place you go to in Israel for fresh lemon grass.'
It all began when researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev discovered last year that the lemon aroma in herbs like lemon grass kills cancer cells in vitro, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. The research team was led by Dr. Rivka Ofir and Prof. Yakov Weinstein, incumbent of the Albert Katz Chair in Cell-Differentiation and Malignant Diseases, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at BGU.
Why does it work? Nobody knows for certain, but the BGU scientists have a theory. 'In each cell in our body, there is a genetic program which causes programmed cell death. When something goes wrong, the cells divide with no control and become cancer cells. In normal cells, when the cell discovers that the control system is not operating correctly - for example, when it recognizes that a cell contains faulty genetic material following cell division - it triggers cell death,' explains Weinstein. 'This research may explain the medical benefit of these herbs.'
He also felt a responsibility to know what to tell his customers about its use. 'When I realized what was happening, I picked up the phone and called Dr. Weinstein at Ben-Gurion University , because these people were asking me exactly the best way to consume the citral. He said to put the loose grass in hot water, and drink about eight glasses each day.'
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