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Can Cruciferous Vegetables Fight Cancer?

Reading this recent study, I was struck by how the results are evidence for eating sulforaphane containing foods, such as kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage for health and preventing cancer (due to anti-tumor activity). It is debatable whether it is support for taking supplements (here a sulforaphane supplement called BSE), even though the researchers were testing the supplement. Seven days of taking a supplement without "serious adverse events" (but they did have minor ones such as "mild abdominal discomfort") is too short a length of time for any support for a product. The real test would be seeing what health effects, both positive and negative, are after a year or two of taking the supplement.

Numerous other studies have found that eating foods are linked to good health, while taking supplements are linked to various health problems. Some scientists speculate that it's because the doses in supplements are too high - that they're much higher than what is found in foods. Also, supplements may be missing important nutrients that are found in foods. Bottom line: eat real foods for health and and cancer prevention, including several servings a week of cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress,bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and similar green leaf vegetables). From Futurity:

Can A Broccoli Sprout Pill Fight Cancer?

A compound in broccoli sprouts may not only help prevent cancer but also treat itSulforaphane is found in vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, and cabbage—and in particularly high concentrations in young broccoli sprouts. Sulforaphane also is available as a dietary supplement called BSE.

Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology, along with collaborators in Oregon, had previously found that sulforaphane could inhibit colon and prostate cancer cells in the laboratory. They’ve now shown that it seems to help humans as well. A paper published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics hints at the biological pathways involved and suggests BSE is generally safe.

“We have not seen any serious adverse events in healthy volunteers who consumed BSE pills for seven days,” says Praveen Rajendran, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, although some people did experience mild abdominal discomfort.

In a separate clinical study, 28 human volunteers over the age of 50, who were undergoing routine colonoscopies, were surveyed for their cruciferous vegetable-eating habits. When their colon biopsies were examined, those who ate more servings were found to have higher levels of expression of the tumor suppressor gene p16 than those who ate few or no cruciferous vegetables.

This effect on p16 held even for people who didn’t eat these vegetables every single day, which may seem strange, as a single serving of sulforaphane is generally cleared from the body in less than 24 hours. “This hints at the possibility that epigenetic mechanisms are initially triggered by sulforaphane and its metabolites, and downstream mechanisms could be sustained, at least in the short-term, even after compounds are eliminated from the body.” In other words, eating vegetables containing sulforaphane may change your genes and help your body fight tumor growth.

However, it’s not all good news. In animal models, sulforaphane was shown to generally inhibit the development of colon cancer, but it’s a bit of a two-edged sword. Sulforaphane induces a protein called Nrf2, which has beneficial antioxidant and detoxifying effects—and is obviously good for fighting cancer. Later in the development of cancer, though, Nrf2 can also have a role in tumor growth and can even enhance the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

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