As early as 1550 B.C., Egyptians realized the benefits of garlic as a remedy for a variety of diseases. Many epidemiological studies support the protective role of garlic and related allium foods against the development of certain human cancers. Natural garlic and garlic cultivated with selenium fertilization have been shown in laboratory animals to have protective roles in cancer prevention. Certain organoselenium compounds and their sulfur analogs have been identified in plants. Organoselenium compounds synthesized in our laboratory were compared with their sulfur analogs for chemopreventive efficacy.
Diallyl selenide was at least 300-fold more effective than diallyl sulfide in protecting against 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary adenocarcinomas in rats. In addition, benzyl selenocyanate inhibited the development of DMBA-induced mammary adenocarcinomas and azoxymethane-induced colon cancer in rats and benzo[a]pyrene-induced forestomach tumors in mice. The sulfur analog, benzyl thiocyanate, had no effect under the same experimental conditions. Furthermore, we showed that 1,4-phenylenebis(methylene)selenocyanate, but not its sulfur analog, significantly inhibited DMBA-DNA adduct formation and suppressed DMBA-induced mammary carcinogenesis. Collectively, these results indicate that structurally distinctive organoselenium compounds are superior to their corresponding sulfur analogs in cancer chemoprevention.
Additionally, synthetic aromatic selenocyanates are more effective cancer chemopreventive agents than the naturally occurring selenoamino acids. Because plants are capable of utilizing selenium in a manner similar to that in sulfur assimilation pathways, future studies should aim at determining whether, under appropriate conditions, these potent cancer chemopreventive synthetic selenium compounds can be synthesized by garlic and related allium foods.