Broccoli has long been lauded as an anti-cancer food, largely for its high levels of cancer-fighting plant chemicals called glucosinolates, which the body metabolizes into powerful anticarcinogens. However, the Carcinogenesis study -- recently presented at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference -- proposes that a naturally occurring phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables, called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), may be preventative against cancers of the breast, prostate and ovaries.
The study's authors -- scientists from the University of Leicester, funded by the Medical Research Council -- believe that I3C may induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in breast cancer cells. After conducting an in vitro study, the researchers proposed that I3C could also make cancer cells more susceptible to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.
"It is notoriously hard to conduct large-scale studies looking at the cancer preventing effects of these substances in our food, but the in vitro evidence is growing that these agents would make an ideal addition to preventive and combinatorial anti-cancer strategies," said the study's lead researcher, Professor Margaret Manson.
Manson's in vitro study examined the effects of I3C on four different types of cancer cells, and found that the cruciferous vegetable compound induced cell death in three of four cell types.
"Although we need to carry out further studies on tumors removed from patients, the potential benefits are clear," Manson said. "Dietary agents are kind to normal cells at doses which can slow down or kill cancer cells. Combining them with drugs may enhance the drugs' effectiveness and could allow reduced doses to be given to patients."
Manson's research team suggested that the dose of I3C naturally present in food sources such as broccoli and cabbage might not be powerful enough to produce the in vitro results her team observed.
Some broccoli extracts are available on the market, which can deliver higher doses of both glucosinolates and I3C.
Consumers in search of other anti-cancer foods can visit HealingFoodReference.com, for more options.