Word is spreading fast that a dietary supplement called 4-MU can stop prostate cancer (PCa) in its tracks. Stories like Fox News Health’s “Dietary Supplement May Prevent and Treat Prostate Cancer, Study Says,” and the bulletin from the University of Miami Health System’s “Sylvester Researchers Report Prevention of Lethal Prostate Cancer with 4-MU Dietary Supplement” are trumpeting news that has prostate cancer patients scrambling to get their hands on the product.
The study that got everyone’s attention was published in April, 2015 by a research team from the University of Miami.[i] The scientific name of 4-MU is 4-methylumbelliferone, and it is a nontoxic agent that is taken orally. It is used in Europe and Asia to maintain liver health. A year earlier, the U of Miami published their observations on a mouse model of prostate cancer that 4-MU acted against the synthesis of a sugar polymer called hyaluronic acid (HA), part of a family of molecules that promotes the growth of PCa cells and their new blood vessels that nourish the tumor, and encourages aggressive mutations.[ii] Based on the results of that research, they were funded by the National Cancer Institute to conduct further study.
For the second study, the team again used mice, this time implanted with a PCa cell line that develops bone metastases. They tracked several groups of mice who received 4-MU at various stages in their disease, with treatment stopped at 28 weeks followed by observation. They found that “4-MU prevented and inhibited bone metastasis in this model, and even after stopping the treatment, mice did not develop bone metastasis. 4-MU also halted tumor growth in another prostate cancer model.”[iii] The researchers were amazed at the consistent results across both studies.
All of this seems nearly miraculous. Indeed, many prostate cancer patients are eagerly looking for ways to purchase 4-MU. It is not yet available in the U.S. but can be ordered from sources in Europe.[iv] However, a word of caution: there have been no clinical trials with humans. Just because it seems to work in mice does not mean it will affect humans the same way. According to the website www.prostatecancerinfolink.net:
…[T]he ability to demonstrate that things like this can occur in highly selected types of laboratory mice under highly controlled conditions is a very different challenge compared to demonstrating the same or similar effects in humans. We’re going to need to see a lot more data before anyone should be considering using 4-MU to treat prostate cancer in men.[v]
At the Sperling Prostate Center, we are always excited over promising developments. The idea that a dietary supplement can curb PCa with no apparent ill effects otherwise is tantalizing. However, more research evidence is needed, and we don’t recommend that individual patients use their own bodies as laboratories unless they are under a doctor’s supervision. That said, we will be keeping an eye on 4-MU.
[i] Yates TJ, Lopez LE, Lokeshwar SD, Ortiz N et a. Dietary supplement 4-methylumbelliferone: an effective chemopreventive and therapeutic agent for prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015 Apr 13;107(7). pii: djv085. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djv085. Print 2015 Jul.
[ii] Alonzo D, Yates T, Lopez L, Hupe M, Lokeshwar V. 4-methylumbelliferone: dietary supplement turned chemo-preventive and anti-metastatic agent for prostate cancer. J Urol. 2014 Apr;191(4 Supplement):e266.
[iii] Sylvester Researchers Report Prevention of Lethal Prostate Cancer with 4-MU Dietary Supplement.” University of Miami Health System, April 16, 2015. http://med.miami.edu/news/sylvester-researchers-report-prevention-of-lethal-prostate-cancer-with-4-mu
[iv] The European product is called Cantabiline, and is marketed as a digestive aid with the active ingredient hymecromone (chemical name is 7-Hydroxy-4-methylchromen-2-one). Consumers are warned that it is a medicine and instructions for use should be closely followed.