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What Are the Benefits of Broccoli for Cancer?

Article Details
  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Many medical professionals believe that broccoli may help the body prevent and ward off the development of certain cancers, particularly those associated with the breast and colon. Broccoli contains very high concentrations of phytochemicals that are capable of killing off cancerous cells before they can multiply and mutate. The actual benefits of broccoli for cancer vary tremendously from person to person, however. Doctors usually recommend that broccoli be eaten as part of a healthy diet, but warn against relying on it to cure or treat any particular condition.

Medical researchers have been looking for natural remedies and cures for cancer for many years. Broccoli and other plants in the cabbage family have been a focus of many health-related investigations in part because of how many nutrients they harbor. These vegetables tend to be high in fiber, vitamins A and C, and a host of antioxidants, for instance. Cancer research and trials usually focus on broccoli’s high concentrations of glucosinolates, which are sulfur compounds.

Glucosinolates are believed to lower cholesterol in their own right, but may also have benefits when broken down. When the body breaks down and processes glucosinolates, isothiocyanates emerge. This class of chemical has often been shown to bind to certain defective proteins, which in some cases leads to the destruction of cancer or precancerous cells. Research focusing on the benefits of broccoli for cancer usually centers on this particular phenomenon.

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Isothiocyanates causes cell death in cells with mutations of the p53 gene by binding to them and preventing their reproduction. Not all cancers involve p53 mutations, but many do. Broccoli for cancer only works with p53 ailments, among which breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and some forms of bladder cancer are the best known examples.

In most cases, broccoli for cancer is most effective in the earliest stages of the disease, often before any illness is even detected. Once tumors have formed, there is often too much growth and mutation for even extreme amounts of isothiocyanates to fix. For this reason, broccoli is usually recommended more as a means of preventing cancer than actually curing it.

British researchers in late 2011 began marketing a hybrid blend of broccoli with very high concentrations of glucosinolates as part of this movement to encourage more meaningful vegetable consumption. The hybrid, sold in many places as “super broccoli,” promises added levels of helpful chemical compounds that may lead to better overall health. It is rare to find a super broccoli product that makes overt reference to eating broccoli for cancer prevention, however. The laws of most countries prevent advertisers from making health claims on food products unless those claims have been clearly established.

Scientific evidence linking broccoli and other related vegetables to cancer cures is generally scant and considered by many to be incomplete. While there is certainly support for the theory that broccoli can ward off cancer, there is little reason to believe that broccoli alone is responsible for positive results. Individual genetics, cancer advancement, and a host of environmental considerations are hard to account for in even the most advanced studies. It is usually recommended that people eat diets high in fibrous whole vegetables like broccoli for their general health benefits first and potential cancer benefits second.

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