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UAB biologists show how veggies work in cancer- fighting diet in the journal Clinical Epigenetics. By UAB Media Relations Published: March 07, 2011
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Mothers around the world now collectively can say, “I told you so.” Your vegetables are good for you, says a research review published by scientists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham In particular, vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage are filled with compounds that could help reverse or prevent cancers and other aging-related diseases as part of the “epigenetics diet,” a new lifestyle concept coined after the article’s publication.
“Your mother always told you to eat your vegetables, and she was right,” says co- author Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., a biology professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “But now we better understand why she was right — compounds in many of these foods suppress gene aberrations that over time cause fatal diseases.”
Epigenetics is the study of the changes in human gene expressions with time, changes that can cause cancer and Alzheimer’s, among other diseases. In recent years, epigenetics research worldwide, including numerous studies conducted at UAB, have identified specific food compounds that inhibit negative epigeneticeffects.
Those foods include soybeans, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. Green tea, fava beans, kale, grapes and the spice turmeric round out the diet. “The epigenetics diet can be adopted easily, because the concentrations of the compounds needed for a positive effect are readily achievable,” says lead author Syed Meeran, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in Tollefsbol’s UAB Department of Biology laboratory.
For example, Meeran says sipping tea compounds called polyphenols in daily amounts that are equivalent to approximately three cups of green tea has been shown to reverse breast cancer in laboratory mice by suppressing the gene that triggers the disease. Similarly, a daily cup of broccoli sprouts, which has sulforaphane as an active compound, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing many cancers.
“Our review article has drawn everything together from global studies, and the common theme is that compounds in the epigenetics diet foods can, at the very least, help us lead healthier lives and help our bodies prevent potentially debilitating diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Tollefsbol says.
This St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate the healing prowess of cabbage – one of the traditional staples of Irish cuisine. Like other cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), cabbage contains powerful phytochemicals with possible anti-cancer effects. Now, new research is investigating the potential of such compounds to counter ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that significantly increases the risk of colon cancer.
Researchers at South Dakota State University isolated and administered particular cruciferous compounds to mice afflicted with ulcerative colitis. Among the more impressive results: a whopping 87% reduction in colon inflammation after five days of observation. Further investigation suggests the compounds work in a dose-dependent manner (e.g., double the intake, double the effect), specifically by suppressing genes associated with inflammation.
While more research is needed to confirm these benefits in humans, there are plenty of reasons to eat more cruciferous vegetables, and cabbage in particular. One cup of cabbage contains 80% vitamin K, 50% vitamin C and 10% folate for just 20 calories. High cabbage intake among Polish women (30 lbs. annually vs. 10 lbs. for American women) may contribute to the former's 66% lower risk of breast cancer. Try an unconventional approach to a time-honored dish with this recipe for Unstuffed Cabbage.
Bonus: Asparagus may be another vegetable to include this St. Patrick’s Day – especially if you’re celebrating with Irish ale. One lab study showed that asparagus extract helped curb liver toxicity. [From the Dole Nutrition Article March 2011]