Cruciferous Vegetables Protect Against Cancer
Studies have shown that those who consume diets rich in vegetables significantly reduce their likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer. Although all vegetables offer powerful protection against cancer, cruciferous vegetables in particular contain the highest protective compounds. Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables that come from the broccoli and cabbage family. The four petals of the flower form the shape of a cross, hence the name cruciferous which means cross-bearing. This article highlights several of Dr. Joel Fuhrman's publications regarding the health benefits from consuming vegetables from this specific group.
Although many of us have a family history which includes various types of cancer, we normally wait to be diagnosed with cancer before we make any significant diet or lifestyle changes. Because diet and lifestyle changes take more time and effort, most people depend heavily on routine early detection screening as a means of protecting themselves. However, the average time it takes for many tumors to grow large enough to be detected is 10 years. Those tumors destined to metastasize to other organs have already done so. Therefore, "early detection" is actually "late detection."
Dr. Fuhrman points out in his article Cancer Alert: Your Best Defense - Go Cruciferous, "If we really want to win the war against cancer, we must improve the nutritional quality of our diet. Cruciferous vegetables contain phytochemicals that have unique abilities to modify human hormones, detoxify compounds, and prevent toxic compounds from binding to human DNA, preventing toxins from causing DNA damage that could lead to cancer. Studies have even shown that genetic defects that may lead to cancer are suppressed by the consumption of green cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables have been shown to be twice as effective. As cruciferous vegetable intake goes up 20%, in a population, cancer rates drop 40%."
"The evidence is now overwhelming that cruciferous vegetables play a major and unique role in the widely recognized protective effects of natural plant foods against cancer. The biologically active compounds from raw and conservatively cooked green vegetables enhance the natural defenses of the human body against DNA damage and they even fuel the body's ability to block growth and replication of cells that are already damaged."
Try to Include a Variety of These Daily
- bok choy
- broccoli rabe
- brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- red cabbage
- turnip greens
Cruciferous Vegetables Contain Unique Anti-Cancer Properties Called ITCs
According to Dr. Fuhrman's article, Anti-Cancer Foods: Cruciferous Vegetables, "Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates and in a different area of the cell, an enzyme called myrosinase. When we chop or chew these vegetables, we break up the plant cells, allowing myrosinase to come into contact with glucosinolates, initiating a chemical reaction that produces isothiocyanates (ITCs) which produce powerful anti-cancer compounds. ITCs have been shown to detoxify and remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing."
Observational Studies Showing Cruciferous Vegetables Protect Against Cancer:
- "Twenty-eight servings of vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 33%, but just 3 servings of cruciferous vegetables per week decreased prostate cancer risk by 41%."
- "One or more servings of cabbage per week reduced risk of pancreatic cancer by 38%."
- "One serving per day of cruciferous vegetables reduced the risk of breast cancer by over 50%."
Cruciferous Vegetables Protect Against Breast Cancer
"Cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful for preventing hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer, because some ITC, such as indole-3-carbinol (abundant in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage), can even help the body excrete estrogen and other hormones. In fact, new research has shown additional anti-estrogenic effects of both indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane (most abundant in broccoli); these ITCs blunt the growth-promoting effects of estrogen on breast and cervical cancer cells."
"Eating cruciferous vegetables produces measurable isothiocyanates in breast tissue, and observational studies show that women who eat more cruciferous vegetables are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer: In a recent Chinese study, women who regularly ate one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables had a 50% reduced risk of breast cancer."
Cruciferous Vegetables Improve Survival Rate for Women who Already Have Breast Cancer
"Breast cancer survivors who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly have lower risk of cancer recurrence – the more cruciferous vegetables they ate, the lower their risk."
The glucosinolate content (which converts to ITCs) in cruciferous vegetables is what gives them their unique spicy or bitter taste. These compounds have potent anti-cancer effects as Dr. Fuhrman has listed in his article, Cruciferous Vegetables Crucial in Combating Breast Cancer:
- "Anti-inflammatory effects – ITCs have been found to decrease the secretion of inflammatory molecules."
- "Anti-angiogenic effects – isothiocyanates can inhibit the development of new blood vessels to limit tumor growth."
- "Detoxification of carcinogens – Some carcinogens must be converted to their active form before they can bind DNA to cause carcinogenic changes – isothiocyanates can block this transformation."
- "Preventing DNA damage – Isothiocyanates also increase the production of our body's natural detoxification enzymes, which protect DNA against damage from carcinogens and free radicals."
- "Stopping cell division in cells whose DNA has been damaged"
- "Promoting programmed cell death in cancerous cells"
- "Anti-estrogenic activity – Exposure to estrogen is known to increase breast cancer risk; estrogens can alter gene expression, promoting cell proliferation breast tissue. ITCs have been shown to inhibit the expression of estrogen-responsive genes."
- "Shifting hormone metabolism – Eating cruciferous vegetables regularly helps the body to shift hormone metabolism, reducing the cancer-promoting potency of estrogen and other hormones."
"A new study kept track of cruciferous vegetable intake in Chinese women with breast cancer for the first 3 years after diagnosis, and followed the women for a total of 5 years. They found dose-response effects – this means that the more cruciferous vegetables women ate, the less likely they were to experience breast cancer recurrence or die from breast cancer. When the women were grouped into four quartiles of cruciferous vegetable consumption, in the highest quartile had a 62% decrease in risk of death and 35% reduced risk of recurrence compared to the lowest quartile. This new data supports a previous report from the Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study. Breast cancer survivors who reported higher than median cruciferous vegetable intake and were in the top third of total vegetable intake had a 52% reduced risk of recurrence – especially powerful since the average intakes were quite low – 3.1 and 0.5 servings/day of total and cruciferous vegetables, respectively."
Chop and Chew Thoroughly!
Dr. Fuhrman reminds us that in order for us to maximize the anti-cancer properties from cruciferous vegetables, we must chop and/or chew thoroughly to break the cell walls: "The myrosinase enzyme is physically separated from the glucosinolates in the intact vegetables, but when the plant cells are broken, the chemical reaction can occur and ITCs can be formed. The more you chop before cooking (or chew if you are eating the vegetables raw), the better. Some ITC benefit may be lost with boiling or steaming, so we get the maximum benefit from eating cruciferous vegetables raw – however, gut bacteria also have the myrosinase enzyme, so additional ITC production may occur in cooked cruciferous vegetables after we eat them. Also, we can increase ITC production from cooked cruciferous vegetables by having some shredded raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, collards or arugula in a salad in the same meal to supply the myrosinase enzyme, which the body can use during the digestive process."
In addition to promoting cancer cell death, the unique properties in cruciferous vegetables protect our bodies from free radical damage for 3 to 5 days. Equally important, these vegetables support important immunologic functions, and are capable of improving systemic lupus in mice and inhibiting human papilloma and herpes virus replication. Please note that antioxidant intake from foods is associated with lower cancer risk - not supplements. Try to include one or two of these vegetables daily, eating them in both raw and cooked form. Dr. Fuhrman addresses the fears circulating the internet regarding cruciferous vegetables and hypothyroidism here.
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