Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Philip Villani


Cancer affects over 14.5 million U.S. citizens of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and races. Some countries have much lower cancer incident rates than the U.S. One major contributing factor to the lower incident rates is diet. Diets in countries with low rates of cancer include antioxidant-rich foods like raw fruits, raw vegetables, and spices. Studies have shown that antioxidants in black tea and berries induce apoptosis in cancerous cells. Because studies have shown that diet and cancer rates are related, it is important to analyze what we eat and how it impacts us. In this study, I quantified antioxidant levels and the ability to induce apoptosis in HeLa cells for three antioxidant-rich foods: spinach, tomato, and oregano. Antioxidant levels of individual foods and all combinations of these foods were quantified. I hypothesized that antioxidant levels for food combinations would be equal to the sum of the individual foods’ antioxidant levels; however, results showed that total antioxidant levels for all combinations were not additive, but were synergistic in some way. Oregano had the most antioxidants followed by spinach and then tomato. I then tested the food extracts on HeLa cells, hypothesizing all the foods and food combinations would induce apoptosis in these cells. Treating HeLa cells with high doses of oregano or oregano combinations resulted in nuclear blebbing characteristic of apoptosis. DNA ladders provided further evidence that these treatments induced apoptosis in these cells. FOX, cell cytotoxicity, and catalase assays as well as gas chromatography analysis were performed, showing that oregano and its combinations were the most promising samples. This research shows how diet can impacts cancer cells and warrants research on other foods that could possibly be used in cancer prevention or anti-cancer drugs.

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