Chop that broccoli…with your teeth! (Photo: Getty Images)
We’re well aware that vegetables contain multiple nutrients and supply the body with an abundance of health benefits. And now a team of researchers from South Dakota State University has found that a compound and an enzyme found in cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, watercress, cabbage and cauliflower — may help prevent recurrence and spread of some cancers.
Moul Dey, lead study author and associate professor in the Health and Nutritional Sciences Department at the university, explains that even after a cancerous tumor has been eliminated through chemotherapy and/or radiation, the cancer stem cells continue to live on in the body since they tend to be resistant to conventional therapies. While these stem cells “only” make up about five percent of the tumor, they can migrate through the blood vessels and metastasize.
“These tiny cells are very difficult to detect in a tumor,” she says. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
In a Petri dish, Dey and her colleagues treated human cervical cancer stem cells with PEITC — a compound that stands for phenethyl isothiocyanate, which is naturally produced from the crunchy cruciferous veggies during the chewing process. Within 24 hours, nearly 75 percent of the stem cells died.
In this trial, the researchers used a 20-micromolar concentration of the compound. However, lower concentrations of PEITC were used in subsequent experiments with mice — between five to 15 micromolars — and also were found to produce effective results. “Consuming just a few ounces will give you the concentrations we worked with,” Dey tells Yahoo Health. “We found it worked in mice, but not every study that works in mice will work in humans. But it’s vegetables — it always has some benefits anyway. You cannot go wrong with having vegetables with every meal.”
The study notes that these concentrations were particularly found in land cress and watercress. Other members of the cruciferous crew include Brussels sprouts, kale, radishes, turnips, arugula, bok choy and rutabaga.
As for those who prefer to drink their veggies in a smoothie — as opposed to chewing them — Dey says it’s just fine. “It just needs some physical force to break the cells,” she explains. “And those two things that are within the cells of the vegetables simply need to come in contact with each other.”
This is not the first time broccoli and its relatives have been known to possess cancer-fighting properties. The website for the American Cancer Society cites previous studies on this topic. For example, a population-based study found that those who ate diets high in lutein, a vitamin A–like chemical obtained from vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and lettuce, had fewer cases of colon cancer.
Another study suggested that those who ate cruciferous vegetables seemed to have a lower risk for bladder cancer. They also refer to another study, which discovered a substance in broccoli (indole-3-carbinol, or I3C) that appeared to alter estrogen levels, as well as raise levels of protective enzymes in the body. And as a result, various trials of cancer cells growing in laboratory dishes or flasks have shown this substance may slow or stop the growth of breast, prostate and other cancer cells.
Bottom line: Eat your broccoli!