HEALTH TIP: When it comes to basic nutrients, broccoli is a mother lode. Ounce for ounce, broccoli has more vitamin C than an orange and as much calcium as a glass of milk. But that’s not all. Broccoli is a powerful anti-cancer veggie.
Here’s why: According to a January 2011 article in “The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry,” proteins coded by the gene p53 help keep cancer from starting to grow. But when the p53 gene is mutated, the protection is gone. Mutated p53 is implicated in about half of all human cancers. Broccoli and its relatives are rich in compounds called isothiocyanates (ITCs), which apparently destroy the products of the mutant p53 gene, but leave the healthy p53 proteins alone and free to suppress tumor development. Of the millions of plant chemicals contained in our common foods, ITCs, are currently among the most studied. They not only block mutant p53 genes, but they also detoxify potential carcinogens such as environmental toxins.
Broccoli also contains a couple of important chemicals referred to as “indoles”: diindolylmethane (DIM) and its precursor, indole-3-carbinol (I3C).
I3C is the real reason that “eat your broccoli” has always been good nutritional advice. According to a recent article in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, “Mounting preclinical and clinical evidence indicate[s] that indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a key bio-active food component in cruciferous vegetables, has multiple anticarcinogenic and antitumorigenic properties.” I3C halts cancer cell growth by interfering with the production of proteins involved in abnormal cellular reproduction, and by promoting the production of tumor-suppressor proteins. I3C has also been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, and a 2005 article in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry suggests that I3C also interferes with angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) which tumors rely on for nutrients and oxygen. Perhaps the single most important mechanism of action of I3C and DIM is modulating estrogen metabolism. I’ll try to explain why…
The enzymes 2-hydroxylase and 16-alpha-hydroxylase help metabolize estrogens. Several years ago, scientists hypothesized that estrogen metabolism via the 2-hydroxylase pathway [which generates 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1)] results in a reduction of “bad” estrogen, which decreases the risk of breast cancer. However, they also theorized that estrogen metabolism via the 16-alpha-hydroxylase pathway [which generates a more biologically potent form of estrogen, 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone (16a-OHE1)] should increase the risk of breast cancer.
This hypothesis was confirmed in 2000, when scientists with the ORDET study analyzed data gathered on more than 10,000 Italian women over 5 years, examining diet and other factors associated with breast cancer risk. The researchers found that a higher ratio of “good” 2-OHE1 to “bad” 16a-OHE1 at the beginning of the study was significantly associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Subsequent studies of different populations have supported this finding, and the ratio of these two estrogen metabolites is now widely regarded as an indicator for the risk of breast and other hormone-associated cancers, with a higher 2-OHE1:16a-OHE1 ratio considered desirable.
A poor ratio of these estrogen metabolites is promoted by obesity and exposure to a number of man made environmental chemicals, and they are responsible for many of estrogen’s undesirable actions in women and men, including further unwanted weight gain, breast cancer, and uterine cancer. In addition, a slow metabolism of estrogen, which leaves too much unmetabolized active estrogen known as “estradiol” in the body, can be a serious problem for both women and men.
What does this have to do with broccoli? Well, according to numerous studies (including a 1997 article published in the Journal of the NCI), I3C shifts the metabolism of estradiol from the dangerous 16-alpha-hydroxylase pathway to the 2-hydroxylase pathway. As a result, consumption of I3C boosts the ratio of 2-OHE1:16a-OHE1, thus reducing the risk of breast, prostate, cervical, and several other types of cancer.
Many scientists believe that I3C’s beneficial effects are partly driven by one of its principal byproducts, DIM. Recently, scientists working with cell cultures showed that DIM activates cellular stress response pathways in breast, prostate, and cervical cancer cells. This response mimics the reaction of cells deprived of adequate nutrition, further enhancing the cells’ susceptibility to destruction. In a 2003 article in Food & Chemical Toxicology, researchers showed that both DIM and I3C induce cell death in prostate cancer cells.
Well, as my precious mother used to say, there’s “oodles and gobs” more information I could share with you about the amazing health benefits of broccoli, but I think that’s enough for one sitting. The bottom line is that in the category of “most healthy vegetable,” this “crunchy cruciferous contender” wins top honors. So, the next time you feel like “pigging out,” why not go on a “broccoli binge?” 😉
By Cancer truth