How Maple Syrup Might Help Cancer Patients

Walter Bibikow/Photodisc/Getty Images

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving to Canada two years ago, it’s that you should never underestimate the power of maple syrup. We already know that maple syrup is extremely tasty (and it even makes a good face mask, apparently), but new research shows that chemicals in maple syrup might be used to fight cancer, as well as inflammatory diseases. Not bad for something that’s primarily known as a waffle topper, huh?

In 2011, scientists discovered a molecule called “quebecol” in Canadian maple syrup (It isn’t found in maple sap, suggesting that quebecol is formed in the syrup-making process). As Mental Floss reports, a number of studies of maple syrup, and quebecol specifically, have suggested that the sticky stuff may have the potential to treat cancer. A 2013 study found, for example, that synthetic derivatives of quebecol are similar to tamoxifen, a drug used in chemotherapy for breast and other cancers. The researchers explain, “tamoxifen has severe side effects.” Maple syrup, in contrast, “has been consumed for centuries without showing toxicity,” suggesting that quebecol may offer a way of combatting cancer without the intense side effects of current treatments.

A study released only last month found that quebecol might also have potential as a treatment for inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Scientists from Université Laval in Quebec City tested the chemical’s anti-inflammatory properties. Researcher Daniel Grenier explained how they did it in a press release:

We take blood cells called macrophages and put them with bacterial toxins. Macrophages usually react by triggering an inflammatory response. But if the culture medium contains an anti-inflammatory molecule, this response is blocked.

The research team’s experiments showed that quebecol “curbs the inflammatory response of macrophages.” Normand Voyer, the chemist who supervised the project, said in the press release, “This paves the way for a whole new class of anti-inflammatory agents, inspired by quebecol, that could compensate for the low efficacy of certain treatments while reducing the risk of side effects.”

These Quebec-based scientists used synthesized derivatives of quebecol in their research, but they're in no danger of running out in any case: Canada is the leading producer of maple syrup in the world, with Quebec responsible for three-quarters of the world's syrup supply.

Images: Walter Bibikow/Photodisc/Getty Images; Giphy