Notable research from this year may steer you toward bringing a heaping dish of cruciferous vegetables to your next holiday meal.
Linus Pauling Institute Principal Investigator Emily Ho, Ph.D., published a paper in the journal Cancer Prevention Research that showed the power of a compound derived from broccoli sprouts to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The compound is called sulforaphane, and researchers gave it to study participants in supplement form, in a dose equivalent to about one cup of broccoli sprouts per day.
This research was done with 54 women with abnormal mammograms who were scheduled for a breast biopsy and were studied in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. They received either a placebo or supplements that provided sulforaphane.
“Our original goal was to determine if sulforaphane supplements would be well tolerated and might alter some of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in cancer,” said Ho.
“We were surprised to see a decrease in markers of cell growth, which means these compounds may help slow cancer cell growth,” said Ho, a co-author on the study.
“This is very encouraging. Dietary approaches have traditionally been thought to be limited to cancer prevention, but this demonstrated it could help slow the growth of existing tumors.”
A number of studies in the past have found that women with a high intake of cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale – have a decreased risk of breast cancer. Research has also shown that sulforaphane, which is found at the highest levels in such foods, can modulate breast cancer risk at several stages of carcinogenesis and through different mechanisms.
In particular, sulforaphane appears to inhibit histone deacetylases, or HDACs, which in turn enhances the expression of tumor suppressor genes that are often silenced in cancer cells.
When better understood and studied, it’s possible that sulforaphane or other dietary compounds may be added to traditional approaches to cancer therapy, whether to prevent cancer, slow its progression, treat it or stop its recurrence.
This research was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
This story was featured in LPI’s Fall/Winter 2016 Research Newsletter.