Heart attack, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease are the leading causes of death in the U.S., and for the most part these conditions are readily preventable. Sulforaphane, diindolylmethane and ellagic acid are three food medicines that can help, and the good news is that they come prepackaged, in cruciferous vegetables and berries.
Li Tang and colleagues at the Roswell Cancer Research Center in New York have been studying the effects of cruciferous vegetables on bladder cancer. About 75,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year. Their findings indicate that raw cruciferous vegetables both lowered the risk and helped halt the growth of bladder cancer. Specifically, intake of just one serving a month of raw broccoli reduced the risk of dying from bladder cancer in those that had it by 57%. These results did not hold up as well for cooked broccoli, perhaps because cooking destroys sulforaphane, one of many cancer preventive compounds found in broccoli. Broccoli contains the highest concentration of this compound compared to other cruciferous vegetables.
In April of 2010 Li Tang reported in another study that regular consumption of raw cruciferous vegetables by smokers could lower their risk of contracting lung cancer by 50%. Since we all breathe, and air quality these days is a little like smoking, even occasional intake of uncooked cruciferous vegetables is a good idea for everyone. Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, broccoli, collards, kale, turnips, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) is another compound found in cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli. It has multiple beneficial properties including antiviral, antibacterial and anti-cancer activity. The National Cancer Institute is conducting clinical trials using DIM as an anticancer agent for numerous forms of cancer. For both prevention and treatment DIM has shown promise with breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers.
My suggestion for consumption of the cruciferous vegetables is 3-8 servings a month of raw, and 3-8 servings of cooked (steamed or sautéed). Organic has a higher concentration of beneficial agents than non-organic produce.
Ellagic acid is found in berries and some nuts, particularly strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and pomegranate. While not as well researched in human studies as cruciferous vegetables, lab studies done over the last 15 years are very promising. Ellagic acid has been found to prevent cancers of the skin, bladder, lung, esophagus prostate and breast. Ellagic acid is an antioxidant, helps the body deactivate carcinogenic compounds and helps destroy and slow the reproduction of cancer cells. Plants have created this compound to protect themselves from virus, bacteria and other organisms, and when we eat the plant/berry we receive the same benefits.
When we eat a whole food, as opposed to a specific concentrate or synthetic analogue, we derive the benefits that scientific research has identified, plus we receive the unknown but synergistic benefits that come with the whole plant. The common thread among the top four causes of death (the fifth being accidents) is inflammation. Eating cruciferous vegetables, raw and cooked along with berries and an all round rainbow colored organic diet provides potent anti-inflammatory activity throughout the body. If one controls inflammation, no matter how long they live, their quality of life should be marked by sound health and lots of energy for the pursuit of true happiness.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s newsletter. Bon appétit!
Jon Dunn, ND