Drinking water with red beetroot food color antagonizes esophageal carcinogenesis in N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-treated rats

J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):733-9. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2008.0280.


This study was undertaken to determine if the oral consumption of red beetroot food color would result in an inhibition of N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine (NMBA)-induced tumors in the rat esophagus. Rats were treated with NMBA and given either regular water ad libitum or water containing 78 microg/mL commercial red beetroot dye, E162. The number of NMBA-induced esophageal papillomas was reduced by 45% (P < .001) in animals that received the food color compared to controls. The treatment also resulted in reduced rates of cell proliferation in both precancerous esophageal lesions and in papillomas of NMBA-treated rats, as measured by immunohistochemical staining of Ki-67 in esophageal tissue specimens. The effects of beetroot food color on angiogenesis (microvessel density by CD34 immunostaining), inflammation (by CD45 immunostaining), and apoptosis (by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end-labeling staining) in esophageal tissue specimens were also determined. Compared to rats treated with NMBA only, the levels of angiogenesis and inflammation in the beetroot color-consuming animals were reduced, and the apoptotic rate was increased. Thus, the mechanism(s) of chemoprevention by the active constituents of red beetroot color include reducing cell proliferation, angiogenesis, and inflammation and stimulating apoptosis. Importantly, consumption of the dye in the drinking water for a period of 35 weeks did not appear to induce any overt toxicity. Based on the fact that red beetroot color contains betanins, which have strong antioxidant activity, it is postulated that these effects are mediated through inhibition of oxygen radical-induced signal transduction. However, the sum of constituents of E162 has not been determined, and other components with other mechanisms may also be involved in antagonizing cancer development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD34 / immunology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Beta vulgaris / chemistry*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dimethylnitrosamine / adverse effects
  • Dimethylnitrosamine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Food Coloring Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Food Coloring Agents / analysis
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / immunology
  • Male
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage*
  • Plant Extracts / analysis
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Water / administration & dosage*
  • Water / analysis


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Water
  • nitrosobenzylmethylamine
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens
  • Dimethylnitrosamine