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Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, arugula, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga and turnips–what do all these veggies have in common besides being on many people’s most-hated foods list? They all contain a phytochemical (lab speak for plant substance) that blocks cancer growth.
According to a study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, a chemical found in all cruciferous vegetables, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), reduced breast cancer tumors by 65% in mice. Researchers believe–and other studies indicate–that this powerful substance may also help destroy cancers of the cervix, prostate, liver, esophagus, uterus and colon, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Another study published last month in the journal Clinical Cancer Research that looked at a different compound in cruciferous veggies called sulforaphane had similar results. When mice with breast cancer were given injections of sulforaphane from broccoli extract, the cancer cells were unable to generate new tumors. The researchers then tested it on human breast cancer cells in a petri dish and found the same results. In both studies, the mice were given higher concentrations of the chemicals than what you can get from your diet.
However, researchers advise against popping sulforaphane or I3C supplements in hopes of warding off cancer. For one, some past animal studies have shown that, in high doses, I3C may actually promote cancer growth in some cases. It is also important to keep in mind that studies that are successful in mice do not always have the same results in humans–and that there’s still a long way to go before researchers determine the best way to utilize these cancer-fighting chemicals.
For now, researchers say you can’t go wrong by making cruciferous veggies part of your diet. A review by the American Dietetic Association shows that over 70% of the studies done on cruciferous vegetables and cancer found a protective benefit. Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live and Live to Eat, who specializes in preventing disease through nutrition, recommends eating at least one serving of cruciferous veggies a day.
If you want to get a good healthy dose of sulforaphane or I3C, broccoli sprouts–three-to four-day-old broccoli plants that look and taste similar to alfalfa sprouts --are the richest source. But, don’t go overboard. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, an 88-year-old woman put herself into a bok choy coma after eating two to three pounds of the stuff raw every day for several months. She thought it would help her control her diabetes. (Bet she doesn’t have a single cancer cell left in her body!) Still, that’s just another reminder how even the healthiest stuff, like water and exercise and bok choy, can kill us when taken to the extreme. So please, enjoy your kohlrabi and broccoli responsibly.
What's your favorite vegetable? How do prepare it? Chime in below.