Facebook Pixel

Are Your Veggies Cancer Assassins?

Rate This
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. Some have shown the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells for tumors in the breast, uterine lining (endometrium), lung, colon, liver, and cervix, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Other studies tracking the eating habits of people over time have found that diets high in cruciferous vegetables are linked to lower rates of prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

A review of research published in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70 percent or more of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer.

“It is well documented that sulforaphane can target cancer cells through multiple chemopreventive mechanisms,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“These findings regarding the relative safety of sulforaphane to normal tissues have exciting and significant clinical relevance as the use of sulforaphane moves towards use in human clinical trials."

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sources: Differential effects of sulforaphane on histone deacetylases, cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in normal prostate cells versus hyperplastic and cancerous prostate cells. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. John D. Clarke, Anna Hsu, Zhen Yu, Roderick H. Dashwood and Emily Ho. Article first published online : 4 MAR 2011, DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201000547. Abstract accessed at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mnfr.201000547/abstract

Vegetables, Fruit, and Cancer Prevention:A Review. K.A. Steinmetz, J.D Potter. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol 96, Issue 10: 1027-1039, Oct. 1996. Abstract accessed at: http://www.adajournal.org/article/S0002-8223%2896%2900273-8/abstract.

American Institute for Cancer Research: Foods that Fight Cancer http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=foodsthatfightcancer_home

American Cancer Society: Support and Treatment, Complimentary and AlternativeMedicine http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/DietandNutrition/broccoli

Reviewed June 14, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.