Cabbage found to produce anti-cancer chemicals
Scientists have discovered that anti-cancer chemicals are produced in the body when 'cruciferous' vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and kale are digested.
It is thought that eating more of these vegetables could help prevent bowel cancer.
Vitamins and minerals
The health benefits of eating vegetables have long been known. In particular, leafy, green vegetables contain various vitamins and minerals that help keep the heart healthy, and protect the cells from damage. They also contain fibre which is known to be good for the gut.
Now scientists from the UK-based Francis Crick Institute have carried out research into why certain vegetables can help prevent certain types of cancer.
The researchers found that when mice were fed a diet that contained a lot of the ‘indole-3-carbinol’ chemical, they were protected from inflammation in the gut and from bowel cancer.
This chemical is produced in humans when we digest cruciferous vegetables including cabbage, kale and broccoli.
Protection against cancer
The research revealed that indole-3-carbinol is modified by stomach acid as it goes through the digestive system. This can change the way that the cells in the bowel lining behave. The bowel lining is constantly being regenerated and the way the cells interact help ensure this renewal is controlled.
Without the chemical in the gut, the stem cells divided uncontrollably – in a process that can ultimately lead to bowel cancer.
The study of mice showed that this chemical protected the mice from cancer, even when they had genes that meant they were at a very high risk of getting cancer.
Senior author Dr Gitta Stockinger said: “Even when the mice started developing tumours and we switched them to the appropriate diet, it halted tumour progression.
“These findings are a cause for optimism; while we can’t change the genetic factors that increase our risk of cancer, we can probably mitigate these risks by adopting an appropriate diet with plenty of vegetables.”
The results suggest it is not just the fibre in these vegetables that is good for our health, but also the chemicals that they produce when eaten.
Previous studies have found that eating vegetables could reduce the risk of breast cancer. Other vegetables that are part of this family include cauliflower, brussels sprouts and bok choy.
The researchers now hope to do further related experiments, including on ‘mini guts’ made from human stem cells.
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