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Anti-cancer foods

The Fabulous Five: Compounds Found Most Effective Against Cancer

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: anti-cancer foods, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Research is rapidly identifying the compounds from plants that are most effective against cancer. Among those that are proving to be the front line of defense against an initial diagnosis of cancer and to prevent recurrence are DIM, curcumin, EGCG, genistein, and I3C. Each has its own unique actions, and when taken together in small amounts they are much more powerful than taking a large amount of only one or two. Each is readily available in supplement form.

The fabulous five are research superstars

The British journal Acta Pharmacalagia Sinica, reports a study by the Cancer Biomarkers and Prevention Group at the University of Leicester in the UK. Researchers noted that intake of these phytochemical compounds is typically studied in artificial (in vitro) environments using high-dose single treatments. However, in humans (in vivo) the exposure to the compounds is persistent low-doses. They designed their study to reflect human exposure by investigating anti-tumor activity of these five phytochemicals in breast cancer cells exposed in long-term culture to typical low doses.

They found that curcumin, EGCG and I3C inhibited clonogenic growth by 55% to 60% and induced 1.5- to 2-fold higher levels of the basal caspase-3/7 activity. No changes in expression of cell cycle-related proteins or survivin were found; however, I3C reduced epidermal growth factor receptor expression, contributing to apoptosis (appropriate programmed cell death). Because some phytochemicals are shown to inhibit DNA histone modification, modulation of expression by the agents in a set of genes was compared with changes induced by inhibitors of DNA methylation or histone deacetylation. The phytochemicals modified protein and/or RNA expression of these genes, with EGCG eliciting the least and DIM the most changes in gene expression. DIM and curcumin decreased activator levels correlated with increased cell motility. Curcumin, DIM, EGCG, and genistein reduced cell sensitivity to radiation-induced DNA damage without affecting DNA repair.

The researchers concluded that this model has revealed that apoptosis and not arrest is likely to be responsible for growth inhibition. It also implicated new molecular targets and activities of the phytochemicals under conditions relevant to human exposure.

What are these compounds?

Each of these compounds is a phytochemical component of a superfood that has been found to confer great overall health benefits to those who consume it.

DIM and I3C

Diindolylmethane (DIM) and indole-3-carbinol (I3C) are components of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, kale, cauliflower, radish, collard greens, Chinese cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, bok choy, turnip greens, rutabaga, arugula, water cress, rapeseeds and mustard seeds.

DIM has been documented as effective against cancer through several actions. It stops tumors from establishing their own blood supply necessary for their continuation of growth. It reduces cancer cell viability and causes cell growth inhibition and apoptosis. DIM down regulates both the ligand and the receptor in breast cancer cells as well as in ovarian cancer cells at the transcriptional level and in an estrogen-independent manner. The potential for chemotaxis and invasion is inhibited by DIM, thereby lowering the invasive and metastatic potential of cancer cells. DIM us able to act independently of Her-2 or estrogen receptor status. It has been shown to be a preventative and/or therapeutic agent in prostate cancer, and is able to induce the release of pro-inflammatory mediators in macrophages.

DIM is nature's hormone modulator. The metabolism and growth promoting activity of estrogen is modified by the intake of milligram amounts of dietary indoles from cruciferous vegetables. DIM is formed from its precursor indole, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), after the enzymatic release of I3C from parent glucosinolates found in these vegetables. DIM is unique among the phytonutrients with regard to its ability to favorably modify estrogen metabolism in the direction of greater 2-hydroxy estrogen production. Improper metabolism of estrogen allows damage to DNA and cancer promotion to take place.

Societies with low consumption of cruciferous vegetables have a high prevalence of estrogen related diseases, particularly breast and prostate cancers. Supplementing with DIM can restore and maintain a favorable estrogen metabolism and greatly lessen the risk for breast and other cancers. Addition of a DIM supplement ensures the hormones used in bioidentical hormone replacement are metabolized down the proper metabolic pathways. DIM has no estrogenic activity. It balances the natural response to estrogen. In dividing cells the growth promoting signal from estrogen is limited by the reduction of the activity level of the estrogen receptor system.

Supplements of I3C are available, but the compound is unstable in the body. I3C is a precursor indole, with little action in the body until it is converted to DIM by stomach acid.

DIM is the better choice for pre and post menopausal women and men interested in supplementing rather that getting these compounds directly from food. Although obtaining nutrients from food is always preferred, the amount of cruciferous vegetables needed to provide the benefits of DIM frequently make supplementation a better choice. Although there are several DIM products available, BioResponse DIM complex, a patented from of DIM offers enhanced bioavailability. DIM-Plus, the version of DIM made by Nature's Way, contains BioResponse DIM and is an economical choice, offered online at Vitacost.


Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (ECGC) is a particular type of polyphenol found in green tea, a substance shown to be a cure and preventative for many of the ills of mankind. In addition to being a powerful agent in the prevention and cure of cancer, it is an antioxidant, promoter of glucose tolerance, protector of the liver and detoxification system, and benefactor of the cardiovascular system.

Recent research has documented a 54% reduction in risk of ovarian cancer in women who reported drinking green tea. Another study found green tea to have therapeutic cancer effects through induction of apoptosis in colorectal cancer. It is also one of the few effective treatments for pancreatic cancer. As a preventative for all cancers, ECGC is able to penetrate the body's cells and shield DNA from the potent free radical hydrogen peroxide.

Green tea also lowers cholesterol levels, and reduces the clotting tendency of blood. It shows promise as a weight-loss aid that can promote the burning of fat and the regulation of insulin levels and blood sugar.

There are many green tea supplements on the market. Some of these contain the whole plant, while others contain extracts. Whole plant supplements are usually preferable because they are backed by the integrity of the whole plant. Many green tea extract supplements are standardized to provide a quantified amount of ECGC.


Curcumin is the active ingredient in the bright yellow spice turmeric. It is one of nature's most powerful healers, having revealed its wonders over centuries. Numerous studies have shown curcumin to be as potent against inflammation as hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone, and over the counter NSAID drugs like Motrin, without the side effects. Its powerful antioxidant effects make it a popular natural therapeutic agent for diseases such as arthritis, where free radicals cause joint inflammation and damage. Studies have linked frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. It can prevent tumors from forming, and can slow the progression of cancer that is already present. Recent studies have documented that curcumin can slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs. Turmeric acts as a transcription factor, a master switch for gene regulation. When genes are switched off, the growth and invasion of cancer cells is halted.

Curcumin is even being used effectively to treat Alzheimer's disease due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Alzheimer's disease is thought to occur when a fragmented protein accumulates in brain cells producing oxidative stress and inflammation, and forming plaque between nerve cells in the brain that disrupt function. Turmeric may prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body, thereby preventing damage to blood vessels and causing build up of plaque that can result in heart attack or stroke.

Dried turmeric is widely available. Organically grown turmeric is preferable. Frequently spicing your cooking with turmeric is one option for consuming curcumin. It can be easily mixed with rice, egg salad or into the cottage cheese flax oil mixture that is the basis of the Budwig diet. Turmeric capsules are available. Nature's Way makes a turmeric capsule that is free of magnesium stearate, but it's not organic. Organic turmeric can be found in the spice department of health food stores such as Whole Foods, or ordered online in powered or capsule forms. Most naturopaths suggest starting with a dose three times the normal dosage suggested in order to quickly bring inflammation under control. Then proceed with the standard dose to maintain.

Genistein is an isoflavone found primarily in soybeans and traditional foods produced from soybeans like tofu and miso. In addition to being an antioxidant, genistein is a phytoestrogen, a plant compound that mimics the actions of estrogen and interacts with estrogen receptor in the human body.

Genistein removes damaging free radicals and reduces lipid peroxidation. By preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, genistein helps reduce the risk for arteriosclerosis, and prevents the formation of heart attacks and strokes by acting as an anti-clotting agent. It increases the activity of other antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and glutathione reductase. It can also influence the growth of cells that are not hormone-dependent. Genistein inhibits the rate of cell growth through its ability to inhibit tyrosine kinase.

Studies have shown that genistein reduces the risk for the hormone related cancers, breast and prostate, by binding with estrogen receptors, preventing estrogen from binding. Consumption of traditional soybean products in China and Japan is linked with low incidence of these cancers. And since genistein imitates estrogen, it may be protective against osteoporosis. It is frequently used to ease menopause symptoms such as hot flashes.

Before genistein can act, it must be released from its precursor. This normally happens in the stomach and intestine through hydrolysis. Some genistein supplements contain genistein that has been hydrolysed in processing. Source Naturals produces genistein as a supplement. It is available at health food stores and online.


"Genistein" Phytochemicals.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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