• Katie Floyd

Purple Corn Phenolic Compounds and Their Effects on Cancer

Updated: Feb 26

The phenolic compounds in purple corn have been shown to possess powerful antioxidant and anti‐inflammatory properties. Additionally, animal studies have shown that purple corn phenolic compounds have anticarcinogenic properties – substances that counteract the effects of carcinogens or inhibit the development of cancer.


As of January 2019, more than 16.8 million Americans still alive today have been diagnosed with some form of cancer, and more than 1.8 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2020. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US (American Cancer Society 2020).

Purple corn phenolic compounds have been involved in a variety of cancer-related studies including skin, colon, liver, lung, breast, and prostate cancer studies. Some positive findings from these studies include the significant decrease of middle‐sized mammary tumors; reduction of colorectal carcinogenesis in rats – suggesting it could have protective effects against colon tumor development; and the main anthocyanin in purple corn, cyanidin‐3‐glucoside, has shown the capability of inhibiting the development of lung tumor cells in mice (Lao et al., 2017).


Skin cancer

One study took anthocyanins from several sources, including purple corn, and incorporated them into lipstick formulations. In vitro evaluations showed an increase in “UV absorption, free DPPH radical‐quenching, and inhibition of melanin production by tyrosinase” (Westfall 2015). Further researched showed that the pigments penetrated the epidermis both in vitro and in vivo in humans, suggesting further potential protective effects against dermal (skin) carcinogenesis (Westfall 2015). Skin carcinogenesis is a multistep process where several individual phases occur to form malignant skin tumors (Robertson 2011).


Breast and prostate cancer

In 2019, an estimated 271,270 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the US – 268,600 among women alone (American Cancer Society 2019). Both in vitro and in vivo evaluations on the anticarcinogenic properties of purple corn on mammary and prostate carcinogenesis was done. Purple corn color demonstrated the incidence of a significant decrease in middle‐sized mammary tumors (Fukamachi et al., 2008).


Colon cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2017 there will be approximately 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in the US (American Cancer Society 2017). Purple corn has shown positive results during research studies involving colorectal carcinogenesis, which can lead to colorectal cancer. Rats fed purple corn color (at a 5% dietary level) showed significant reduction of colorectal carcinogenesis (Hagiwara et al., 2001).


Liver cancer

In 2020, approximately 42,810 new cases of liver cancer and 30,160 associated deaths are expected to occur in the US (American Cancer Society 2019). During liver cancer animal studies, purple corn color might have modifying effects on mRNA markers regarding the development of liver carcinogenesis (Yokohira et al., 2008).


Lung cancer

In 2020, around 228,820 new cases of lung cancer and 135,720 associated deaths will occur. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women and makes up almost 25% of all cancer deaths. (American Cancer Society 2020). The main anthocyanin in purple corn, cyanidin‐3‐glucoside, has shown the capability of inhibiting the development of lung tumor cells in mice. The purple corn color inhibited proliferation of a human lung carcinoma cell line, reduced the size of tumor growth, and inhibited metastasis during in vivo studies (Ding et al., 2006).


Ready the full study here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12249


“Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-figures.html. Accessed 19 February 2020.

“Cancer Facts & Figures 2020.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-

statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2020.html. Accessed 19 February 2020.

“Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2017-2019.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/research/

cancer-facts-statistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-figures.html. Accessed 20 February 2020.

Fukamachi K, Imada T, Ohshima Y, Xu J, Tsuda H. 2008. Purple corn color suppresses Ras protein level and

inhibits 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced mammary carcinogenesis in the rat. Cancer Sci 99:1841–6.

Hagiwara A, Miyashita K, Nakanishi T, Sano M, Tamano S, Kadota T, Koda T, Nakamura M, Imaida K, Ito N,

Shirai T. 2001. Pronounced inhibition by a natural anthocyanin, purple corn color, of 2-amino-1-methyl-6 phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP)-associated colorectal carcinogenesis in male F344 rats pretreated with 1,2-dimethylhydrazine. Cancer Lett 171:17–25.

Lao, F., Sigurdson, G.T. and Giusti, M.M. (2017), Health Benefits of Purple Corn (Zea mays L.) Phenolic Compounds. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 16: 234-246. doi:10.1111/15414337.12249

“Key Statistics About Liver Cancer.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/about/what-is-key-statistics.html. Accessed 20 February 2020.

“Key Statistics for Lung Cancer.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed 20 February 2020.

Robertson F.M. (2011) Skin Carcinogenesis. In: Schwab M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Cancer. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Westfall A. 2015. Evaluation of the efficacy of anthocyanins as biologically active ingredients in lipstick formulations. [Master of Science thesis]. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. 118 p. Available from: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1429170218

Yokohira M., Yamakawa K., Saoo K., Matsuda, Y., Hosokawa K., Hashimoto N., Kuno T., Imaida, K. 2008. Antioxidant effects of flavonoids used as food additives (purple corn color, enzymatically modified isoquercitrin, and isoquercitrin) on liver carcinogenesis in a rat medium-term bioassay. J Food Sci 73:561–8.


#purplecorn #cancer #cancerpreventionmonth #antioxidant #antiinflammatory #anticarcinogenic #functionalingredients #zamaize #nirowell

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