The possibility of developing cancer is frightening to everyone, and indeed the odds of it happening are now one in three. Furthermore, the chance you might get it has increased over the past few decades. Fortunately, with advances in medicine, and increased knowledge of diet and nutrition, your chances of surviving it are now much greater than they were only a few years ago.
Few people realize that a violent struggle is going on in their body between molecules that are trying to give them cancer, and molecules that are trying to protect them from it. Every day thousands of cells in your body are forced into a pre-cancerous state by carcinogens. If they aren’t repaired, some of them will eventually develop into full-blown cancer cells. Is there anything you can do to help prevent this? Indeed, there is, and one of the most important things is related to your diet. It is now known that a class of vegetables called cruciferous vegetables is extremely effective in protecting you from developing cancer. Some of them are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radishes, and turnip greens.
Attention was drawn to these vegetables in 1996 when articles in two different journals showed that they appeared to be extremely effective in fighting cancer. The first, in Cancer: Epidemiology, biomarkers, and Prevention, reviewed 94 studies on cancer prevention and concluded that consumption of cruciferous vegetables led to a significant decrease in the risk of both primary and secondary cancers. The second, in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, showed that 70-percent of the studies it reviewed also indicated a close link between the consumption of cruciferous vegetable and protection against cancer. Numerous more recent studies have verified these results.
How and Why Crucifers Attack Cancer Cells
The major reason crucifers are so effective is that they contain what is called glucosinolates. They are sulfur-containing chemicals that give these vegetables their pungent odor and bitter taste. During cutting, chewing and digestion glucosinolates are broken down into several biologically active compounds, including indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates. Of these, isothiocyanates (usually called ITC’s) and indoles are the most important. Studies have shown that both inhibit the development of cancer in several different organs in rats and mice. They include the bladder, breasts, colon, liver, and stomach. These studies have also shown that cruciferous vegetables are helpful in preventing cancer in several different ways, including:
• They act to stop carcinogens from initiating cancer.
• They protect cells from DNA damage (which cause mutations that create cancer).
• They help inhibit tumor blood vessel formation (called angiogenesis).
• They help stop the migration of tumor cells to distant parts of the body (called metastasis)
• They induce cell death (apoptosis) when needed to get rid of cancer cells.
Most of the above studies were done using animals or cells grown in the lab. Almost all of them showed a benefit of cruciferous vegetables in helping to prevent cancer. Studies with people have also been made and they are encouraging, but some of them have mixed results, ranging from little effect to considerable effect. The reason for this is that there are problems when people are involved. First of all, studies of this type usually rely on people’s memory of what they ate, and secondly, people who eat large numbers of crucifers usually have other behaviors that reduce their risk of cancer. Finally, it’s well-known that genes also have an effect.
One of the best ITC’s is what is called sulfurophane. It has been shown to prevent carcinogens from binding to DNA, and it also produces enzymes that repair DNA that has become damaged by a carcinogen. In all, about 120 ITC’s have been identified, and they play many different roles in protecting DNA and stopping cancer.
How to Get Maximum Effect
Chopping, blending and breaking up of these vegetables is particularly important. This enhances the production of ITC’s; in fact, the greater the breakup, the greater the number of ITC’s produced. It is also best to eat them raw. If cooking is used, it is best to cut them up first, then cook them for only a short time. If they are cooked until they are mushy much of the benefit is lost. It’s also important to chew them thoroughly. This applies particularly to broccoli and cauliflower. Also, in this case, it’s important to remember that most of the nutrients are in the florets.
Cruciferous vegetables are also most effective when eaten together. So putting several of them in a salad is a good way to serve them. Juicing is also a good way of breaking them up, and juices of various vegetables can easily be mixed.
In addition to their role in protecting you from cancer, cruciferous vegetables also contain several carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin which are particularly good for your eyes. Furthermore, they are a good source of vitamins C, E, folate and several minerals. And they are a good source of fiber.
How Many Should You Eat?
Two servings a day along with 5 servings of other vegetables is usually considered sufficient. Several servings of fresh fruit is also important. The National Cancer Institute recommends 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day for cancer prevention.
Barry Parker, Ph. D., is a professor emeritus (physics, biophysics) at Idaho State University. He is the author of 25 books on science, health, writing and music. He has a strong interest in health and fitness, self-improvement and music. His most recent book is “Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.” He is also the author of “Feel Great Feel Alive.” His website is [http://www.BarryParkerbooks.com]
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