A Moment of Science

Cancer-fighting Foods and Vegetables

What foods help fight cancer? Learn about cruciferous vegetables and how they not only help lower your risk of cancer, but slow the growth of existing tumors.

broccoli sprouts in a community garden

Photo: romanlily (flickr)

What gives vegetables, like broccoli, their cancer-fighting properties are phytochemicals - substances produced naturally by plants in order to help protect them against disease. Lucky for us, phytochemicals help fight disease in humans too.

It’s been known for some time that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain cancer-fighting components. They not only lower your risk of getting cancer, but can slow the growth of existing tumors. But how do these veggies manage such a task, you might ask.

Phytochemicals

First, what gives these vegetables their cancer-fighting property are phytochemicals, which are substances produced naturally by plants in order to help protect them against disease. Lucky for us, phytochemicals help fight disease in humans too.

At least two phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables are known at this point to be cancer-fighting, and they are Indole-3-carbinol (or I3C) and diindolylmethane (or DIM.)

Estrogen Metabolism

One way in which these chemicals fight cancer is by interfering with estrogen metabolism, which contrary to popular belief, affects men too. The products of a body’s metabolization of estrogen can vary. Some of the possible products are carcinogenic, possibly leading to tumors, but others are not.

DIM works by causing estrogen metabolism to produce more of the non-harmful products, less of the carcinogenic. Not only is DIM in these veggies, but in the body much of I3C is converted into DIM. Other roles I3C plays in fighting cancer seem to be the result of a combination of its derivatives.

Cruciferous Veggies

In addition to broccoli, there are plenty of other cruciferous veggies you can choose from to get your I3C. Cauliflower, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and cabbage are just a few. Simply eating some of these regularly does help prevent various cancers, but for optimal benefits, you have to eat up to two pounds of these veggies a day.

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