The “war on cancer” drags on with no end in sight with 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer last year alone.
I don’t know about you, but with stats looking a lot like they did in 1971 when this “war” was declared, I’d say we are losing the battle.
But there’s hope and it lies in prevention.
Leading experts say that up to 90% of various cancers are caused by environmental factors and lifestyle behaviors.
People think that changing their lifestyles has to be dramatic and challenging. For some diehard junk food eaters (ever wonder why they say: die hard? H-m-m-m-m…) it might be. But for most of us who are looking to prevent disease because we have become aware, it’s as simple as adding some veggies to your diet.
While ongoing research points to the anti-cancer effects of compounds found in cruciferous vegetables, most people don’t eat enough of them to get the protection Mother Nature offers us via these delicious plants.
What makes these vegetables so special? So key to helping us avoid the black cloud of cancer in our lives?
Cruciferous vegetables are a group of edible plants that include broccoli, kale, green and red cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. While all vegetables are great for us, cruciferous vegetables have a profound ability to shield cells from certain processes that can change healthy cells into cancerous tumors.
Two compounds in particular stand out: sulforaphane and 3,3 ‘-diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM is a stable compound that is easily absorbed from the digestive system. Sulforaphane, however is unstable and rapidly degrades if the vegetable is over-cooked. Wait, what?
Mother Nature is simply brilliant. Cruciferous vegetables do not contain sulforaphane itself. Instead, a precursor called “glucoraphanin” is stored in plant cells with an enzyme called “myrosinase” that converts the glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. When the vegetables are raw, these two dynamos are stored separately in the cells. It’s only when the vegetables have been cooked, eaten and partially digested that these babies combine in the body and create the sulforaphane we need to protect our bodies from developing cancer.
And that’s only one way that cauliflower and broccoli protect us from cancer risk.
You see, cancer results from damage to our genes that causes cells to multiply out of control. While toxins from the air we breathe and the water we drink and our compromised diets contribute to this damage, we can slow its progression and protect our precious cells.
Cancer can be caused by epigenetic changes, better known as turning the genes on and off. While they don't alter DNA, they alter the expression of genetic patterns. Studies show that DIM and sulforaphane can actually reverse some of these cancer-associated alterations.
It gets better. Even after a cell starts down the path to cancer…that progression can be halted or reversed. DIM and sulforaphane have been shown to suppress the growth of tumors by interfering with the ‘signals’ that drive cancer cells to proliferate rapidly. These two guardian angels also directly kill cancer cells through the process of apoptsosis or programmed cell death.
In essence, you might say that cruciferous vegetables initiate the ‘suicide’ of cancer cells, while protecting healthy cells.
And then there’s hormones. Some forms of estrogen can stimulate breast cancer growth in women. By modulating how estrogen is metabolized, DIM shifts the estrogen balance to favor healthier forms of the hormone.
And don’t think estrogen affects only women. In aging men with benign enlarged prostates or prostate cancer, we see higher levels of estrogen in the blood. DIM can also help prevent stimulation of cancer cells in the prostate by estrogen.
I know this has been super science-y but I wanted you to begin to understand how important it is to add these vegetables to our diets. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale are not just slogans on a tee shirt that are having a moment. They are Mother Nature’s way of protecting us from the perils of cancer.
And it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.