Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli have long been known to contain plant chemicals like indoles that have anti-cancer action. Now a new study confirms that another plant compound found in broccoli—sulforaphane—also has cancer-fighting properties.The latest study, done by Emily Ho and a team of researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, found that sulforaphane—a powerful antioxidant found in abundance in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables—has the power to selectively target and kill cancer cells, meanwhile leaving normal prostate cells unaffected.
Sulforaphane- which is also a potent antioxidant—apparently inhibits HDAC enzymes (histone deacetylase) which play an important role in whether or not certain genes—like tumor suppressor genes—are “expressed” (activated) or not. HDAC inhibition is a very promising are of cancer treatment and researchers are working on both pharmaceutical and dietary approaches to inhibiting this group of enzymes.
“There's significant evidence of the value of cruciferous vegetables in cancer prevention,” said Emily Ho, professor and director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author on this research.
“However, this study is one of the first times we've shown how sulforaphane can affect a histone methylation and alter gene expression in metasticized prostate cancer cells,” said Ho, who is also a principal investigator in OSU's Linus Pauling Institute. “It begins a process that can help to re-express tumor suppressors, leading to the selective death of cancer cells and slowing disease progression.”
The evidence now shows that sulforaphane should have therapeutic value against some forms of cancer, Ho said, including late-stage, metasticized disease. Its multiple impacts on metabolic processes might also make it a valuable adjunct to existing therapies, helping them to work better.
Scientists caution that while broccoli appears promising as an excellent food for preventing cancer, the results of such studies cannot be considered by themselves. The anti-cancer effects of any single food cannot be completely understood without looking at it as part of a bigger dietary picture. It is still unclear, for example, whether the phytochemicals in broccoli have benefit on their own or whether it is the vitamin C, beta carotene, folate, and other compounds, working together and in the right quantities, that might protect people against cancer.
A balanced diet that includes 5 or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables along with foods from a variety of other plant sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, and beans is likely to be more healthful than eating large amounts of one food.
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