In a recent study, investigators discovered that a natural compound found in broccoli, called sulforaphane, was able to significantly decrease the number of breast cancer stem cells (the earliest cancer cells that form tumors) in cell preparation studies and in mouse studies. The authors used a highly concentrated form of this natural compound, derived from broccoli (sulforaphane), to test whether breast cancer stem cells would be able to grow and form tumors.
In another recent study, investigators found that sulforaphane is able to shut off cancer-promoting genes in prostate cancer cells (by DNA methylation), thereby slowing down their growth. This is also believed to be one of the key mechanisms by which sulforaphane helps to reduce the risk of developing cancer (e.g. turning off important genes that can cause precancerous cells to transform into cancer.)
Sulforaphane is just one of hundreds of natural compounds found in vegetables with purported anti-cancer actions.
In a study (published in Cancer Prevention Research) investigators describe the ‘anti-cancer’ actions of another phytonutrient found in broccoli, called “indole-3-carbinol” or “I3C.” In experiments conducted by these authors, I3C significantly decreased the growth of breast cancer in both cell cultures and in a mouse model.
One of the core principles of integrative oncology is the importance of consuming a diet with a wide-range of vegetables of fruits. It is thought that by combining a variety of these whole foods in the diet, their individual anti-cancer phytonutrients will be much more effective in preventing and inhibiting cancer cells than if consumed individually. This concept is referred to as “synergy” (i.e. 1+1+1 does not simply equal 3, but in fact may equal much more.) Cancer cells develop, grow and spread through numerous mechanisms. Just as with chemotherapy drugs, which kill cancer cells through a variety of pathways, natural anti-cancer phytonutrients have been demonstrated to function in many of the same ways (i.e. preventing cancer cell growth, signaling the cancer cell to die, preventing cancer cells from invading through tissues and reaching the blood stream or lymph nodes, preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors, etc.)