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How the body's natural defenses help protect cells from toxins in everyday foods and flavorings

Here's some interesting findings to ponder as you reach for your afternoon caffeine fix: Compounds in your saliva may protect human cells from powerful plant-based chemicals, called pyrogallol-like polyphenols (PLPs) that are found in coffee, tea and other foods or flavorings.

The research is a continuation of a 2013 study showing that plant-based flavorings could be damaging to DNA. The earlier findings suggested that, in some cases, the impact of PLPs was comparable to the effect of chemotherapy drugs. So Johns Hopkins researcher Scott Kern, MD, and colleagues set out to understand why the toxins weren't harming cells and causing illness. Futurity reports on the results of the latest study:

Kern and colleagues found that an enzyme in saliva called alpha-amylase, the blood protein albumin, and the muscle protein myoglobin all protect cells from DNA breakage by tea, coffee, and isolated PLPs.

Kern emphasizes that the saliva enzyme and the proteins don’t protect against chemotherapy drugs, which also damage DNA. That suggests that defenses against PLPs may have evolved, in response to natural plant compounds that have been part of human diets for a long time.

Surprisingly, cells do not seem to need the protein protectors after a period of exposure to the toxins.

Previously: What is coffee?, For new moms, coffee scores a point: Caffeine doesn’t seem to interfere with baby’s sleep in study and Does coffee lower the risk of prostate cancer?

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