Cruciferous Splendiferous

Broccoli and its relatives are a nutritional powerhouse. They are known as cruciferous because their flowers are cross-shaped. One cup of cooked broccoli supplies half of a day's supply of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), twice the requirement for vitamin C (more than a glass of orange juice), six percent of niacin, nine percent of calcium, twelve percent of phosphorus, ten percent of iron, twenty percent of daily fiber needs, five grams of protein, some potassium, and all this for only forty-five calories. The phytochemicals it contains have less than memorable names: indoles, isothiocyanates, and others. One of these isothiocyanates, known as sulforaphane, has captured attention for its role in cancer prevention. In the test tube it was able to protect cells against cancer-causing agents, and in a study done at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine it was shown to be protective against mammary cancers in laboratory animals. Studies also showed that humans who eat large amounts of cruciferous vegetables were at reduced risk of various kinds of cancer. It is suspected that it is the combination of beta-carotene, indoles and isothiocyanates, as well as other substances, which are working to offer this protection. Other members of this family, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, are high in nutritional value, but none quite the equivalent of broccoli.

Reported in the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, July 1994, Volume 10, Issue 10.

Newsweek, April 25, 1994 commented further on how the sulforaphane testing being done at Johns Hopkins may work. Within hours after being eaten, sulforaphane enters the blood stream. As it circulates it triggers one of the body's defense systems; it activates a group of enzymes which burst into action attaching the carcinogen which may have come from food, drink, air, or smoke, to a molecule which whisks it out of the cell.

This same April 1994 issue of Newsweek hailed the discovery of phytochemicals as its centerpiece article and went on to discuss the following benefits:

Another isothiocyanate chemical found in cabbage and turnips, called PEITC for short, inhibits lung cancer by breaking carcinogens into fragments before they can bind to a cell's DNA.

A phytochemical in strawberries, grapes and raspberries, called ellagic acid, also neutralizes carcinogens before they can invade DNA.

Two of the phytochemicals in tomatoes, p-coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, are thought to combat cancer by disrupting the making of nitrosamines, which can work to turn normal cells cancerous. These two chemicals are also found in green peppers, pineapples, strawberries, and carrots to name a few.

Indole-3-carbinol, another chemical in the cruciferous family, cuts the risk of breast cancer by triggering enzymes which act to break down estrogen into a harmless form rather than its cancer causing form.

Onion and garlic contain allylic sulfide, which works on enzymes to detoxify carcinogens.

Capsaicin in hot peppers keeps toxic molecules from attaching to DNA and thereby initiating cancer, as does another phytochemical found in turmeric and cumin.

Almost every fruit and vegetable, from berries to yams, citrus, and cucumbers contains flavonoids, another antioxidant and anti-carcinogen.

The December 1993 issue of Environmental Nutrition reported on a study from the Netherlands where researchers evaluated 805 men aged sixty-five to eighty-four regarding their diet and other risk factors for heart attack. The group of men who consumed the highest amounts of flavonoids suffered less than half the number of fatal heart attacks as the men who consumed the lowest amounts. Tea, onions, and apples were the chief sources of flavonoids in their diets.

Another report in Executive Health, January 1993, had this lead-in title:

Plant Flavonoids—Can They Heal Us?

This article indicated that flavonoids are often found in the same foods which are high in vitamin C. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his work on vitamin C, also reported on the isolation of citrin, a flavonoid from lemon juice which had remarkable effects on blood vessels. This work led to further research on flavonoids. Flavonoids are what give color to flowers, leaves, and stems. At least five hundred are presently known. From initial studies it was learned that flavonoids appear to have a role in the prevention of heart disease. Not only do they play a role in keeping blood vessels from getting blocked, but they help to lower serum lipid and cholesterol levels. Other plant flavonoids are thought to produce anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. Most of these substances also work as antioxidants. The effects of flavonoids on the immune system are complex and poorly understood.

Flavonoids such as quercetin are found in many plant foods and are associated with a lower cancer risk. Derivatives of quercetin in lab tests have shown antiviral activity against such well-known viruses as polio and the common cold. However, when quercetin is tested in isolation it does not have the same anti-viral effect as when combined with vitamin C. Quercetin is easily oxidized and needs vitamin C to prevent the oxidation from occurring. Nature makes quercetin and vitamin C partners in plants. Can you see how extracting single nutrients from foods plays havoc with the way nature intended for them to work to keep us well?

How about the licorice root? Legally, the extract of licorice root is approved by the FDA only to be used as a sweetener or flavoring. It seems an unlikely place to find health benefits, and conclusive evidence is still pending, but some of the "best colon and breast cancer preventatives in lab animals are in licorice root extract." The phytochemical responsible is called glycyrrhizin. This chemical, which is fifty times sweeter than table sugar, is being studied by Japanese researchers for its possible link in bolstering the immune system, cancer prevention, and possibly to counteract HIV. It has anti-inflammatory action that soothes sore throats and ulcers. Licorice-flavored throat lozenges typically do contain true licorice extract, as does black licorice candy, but many candies labeled "licorice flavor" actually are flavored with anise oil. Much more research is needed to confirm the anticancer potential of licorice. Toxic reactions have occurred from eating too much, an amount which varies from person to person. Supplements are not advised; too much can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels, possibly triggering a heart attack, and there's no telling what else the supplements contain. They could be contaminated with microbes from the root, or riddled with iron filings from the grinding process. I do not wish to encourage perpetual munching on licorice candy or to single out licorice as being necessary for optimal health. I mention this study reported in

Environmental Nutrition, September 1994 to underscore the pervasive characteristics of phytochemicals throughout the plant kingdom.

Berry Boosters

Berry Boosters

Acai, Maqui And Many Other Popular Berries That Will Change Your Life And Health. Berries have been demonstrated to be some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Each month or so it seems fresh research is being brought out and new berries are being exposed and analyzed for their health giving attributes.

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