Biologists at John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center tested the potential harmful effect of food and flavorings on the cell DNA and released their findings in a study published in February 2013.
The p53 gene is activated when DNA is damaged and expresses repair proteins that mend the damaged DNA. The activation and expression of p53 is directly linked to the level of DNA damage.
“We don’t know much about the foods we eat and how they affect cells in our bodies,” says Scott Kern, M.D., the Kovler Professor of Oncology and Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But it’s clear that plants contain many compounds that are meant to deter humans and animals from eating them, like cellulose in stems and bitter-tasting tannins in leaves and beans we use to make teas and coffees, and their impact needs to be assessed.”
A test was developed for p53 activity, by using a fluorescent compound that “glows” when p53 is activated. Researchers mixed dilutions of food products and flavorings with human cells and grew them in laboratory dishes for 18 hours.
A baseline p53 activity was obtained and the scientists found that liquid smoke flavoring, black and green teas and coffee revealed a 30-fold increases in p53 activity, which was on par with their tests of p53 activity caused by a chemotherapy drug called etoposide.
Prior studies have shown that liquid smoke flavoring damages DNA in animal models, and Kern’s team analyzed p53 activity triggered by the chemicals found in liquid smoke. The chemicals with the highest level of p53 activity include: pyrogallol and gallic acid. Pyrogallol, commonly found in smoked foods, is also found in cigarette smoke, hair dye, tea, coffee, bread crust, roasted malt and cocoa powder and Gallic acid, a variant of pyrogallol, is found in teas and coffees. Liquid smoke is often used to add flavor to sausages, meat and other vegan based products.
Other flavorings like fish and oyster sauces, tabasco and soy sauces, and black bean sauces showed minimal p53 effects, as did soybean paste, kim chee, wasabi powder, hickory smoke powders and smoked paprika.
The researchers cautioned that more research is needed to confirm the laboratory based study.