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Are Your Veggies Cancer Assassins?

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Researchers have known for the better part of two decades that eating cruciferous vegetables can help to lower your risk of getting certain kinds of cancer. Now, new research has shown for the first time that sulforaphane— one of the primary phytochemicals in broccoli and other super-charged cruciferous vegetables— selectively target and kill cancer cells with laser-like precision, while leaving normal prostate cells healthy and unaffected.

The findings, made by scientists in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, are another important step forward for the potential use of sulforaphane in cancer prevention and treatment.

The results also suggest that consumption of sulforaphane-rich foods should be non-toxic, safe, simple and affordable in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Clinical prevention trials are already under way for its use in prostate cancer and breast cancer.

The study, published in the professional journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research suggested that sulforaphane, found at fairly high levels in broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, bok choy and mustard greens, is an inhibitor of histone deacetylase, or HDAC enzymes. HDAC inhibition is one of the more promising fields of cancer treatment being targeted from a pharmaceutical and dietary approach, the scientists said.

The Linus Pauling Institute has conducted some of the leading studies on sulforaphane’s role as an HDAC inhibitor – one, but not all, of the mechanisms by which it may help prevent cancer.

HDACs are a family of enzymes that affect DNA and play a role in whether certain genes are expressed or not, such as tumor suppressor genes. Some of these mechanisms cause inappropriate cell growth – the hallmark of cancer. HDAC inhibitors help thwart cancer cells by “turning on” these silenced tumor suppressor genes and restoring normal cellular function.

While HDACs are extremely important, various components in cruciferous vegetables have been linked to lower cancer risks.

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