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How Nutraceuticals Fight Cancer

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Diet is an important factor in who gets cancer. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated an association between various nutritional components and reduced cancer risk. Those most effective are often called nutraceuticals, from the words“nutrition” plus “pharmaceutical”. Researchers are now examining their mechanisms of action.

Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal and coworkers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas reported on the role of spices in prevention and treatment of cancer. The motivation to study spices is the remarkably low rate of cancer in India, where spice consumption is much higher than that in the western world. According to Aggarwal, components of spices target five phases of cancer development: inflammation, proliferation, apoptosis, invasion, and angiogenesis.

Acute inflammation is a healthy response to infection, but chronic inflammation can be the first step to cancer, Aggarwal explained. In lab studies of cell cultures and animals, spices have demonstrated high anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant properties. Pre-clinical studies have also indicated that spice components can interfere with the subsequent steps of tumor formation.

Dr. Fazlul H Sarkar and coworkers at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan identified the cellular signaling pathways called Wnt and Hedgehog as major targets of nutraceuticals. These signaling pathways are involved in both embryonic development and cancer growth. Based on lab studies, the most important food components that fight this cancer mechanism are:
1. Isoflavones, found in soy, lentils, beans, and chickpeas.
2. Curcumin, found in the spice turmeric.
3. Polyphenols, found in tea.
4. Resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes and in peanuts.
5. Indole-3-carbinol and 3,3'-diindolymethane (DIM), found in a wide variety of plants, with high concentrations in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
6. Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their deep red color.
7. Vitamin D, produced in skin exposed to sunlight and widely available as a supplement.

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