To Your Health
April, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 04)
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Foods That Fight Cancer

By James Meschino, MS, DC

What three simple words can shake just about anyone to their core? You've got cancer. A cancer diagnosis (or even the possibility of one) instantly brings fear, questions and thoughts about what to do. Fortunately, here's another three-word phrase that's equally as important in any cancer conversation: This can help. We're talking about certain compounds in foods - in this case, broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables - that may improve your odds of staying cancer-free for a lifetime.

Over the years, various studies have suggested that people who regularly consume cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, bok choy, etc.) have lower rates of many cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. Researchers have investigated cruciferous vegetables in an attempt to identify the active agent(s) that account for this cancer-protective effect. As it turns out, cruciferous vegetables are unique in that they contain compounds called sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol. Both of these natural agents enhance the body's ability to detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, but indole-3-carbinol in particular exhibits other impressive anti-cancer effects that should be recognized. Here are some important facts to know about cancer and what you can do to prevent it.

Your Body Makes Cancer Cells Every Day

Assorted vegetables and a boxing glove. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark You may not realize it, but your body actually creates cancer cells every day (as old cells replace new ones). Under healthy conditions, the emerging cancer cell realizes something has gone array and initiates a series of steps that encourage the cell to commit suicide (so as to prevent it from becoming a danger to the rest of the body).

How does this work? Some of the genes in our DNA act as sensors, which are triggered when a cell is becoming cancerous, infected by a virus or bacteria, or damaged from physical trauma. Once the sensors identify a problem, the sensor genes (called tumor suppressor genes) instruct other genes to make specific proteins that ultimately rip apart the energy factory of the cell (causing a power outage) and destroy the genetic material of the cell (so it cannot reproduce). This leads to cell death or what researchers call "programmed cell death" or "apoptosis."

However, some emerging cancer cells become very intelligent and, in their desire to survive and multiply, produce other chemicals that prevent the cell from committing suicide via programmed cell death. This is how cancer cells get traction and give themselves the opportunity to multiply like rabbits and form malignant tumors.

Influencing Cancer Cell Replication

Via several mechanisms, indole-3-carbinol may disrupt the cancer cell's attempt to bypass programmed cell death. Experimental studies show that indole-3-carbinol and its metabolites (products made from indole-3-carbinol in the body's metabolism) not only stop the growth of certain types of cancer cells, but also trigger them into committing suicide. This is an important mechanism by which the indole-3-carbinol is thought to lower our risk of cancer.

So, in addition to speeding up the body's ability to neutralize (detoxify) and eliminate cancer-causing chemicals, indole-3-carbinol also appears to help ensure that any emerging cancer cells commit suicide before they can become a threat to the body. Research suggests supplementation with indole-3-carbinol also reverses cervical dysplasia and vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (tumor), two precancerous conditions that occur in women, in a high percentage of cases. Another study showed that indole-3-carbinol supplementation reversed respiratory papillomas as well.