Volume 6, Issue 33 August 22, 2013
Which foods really prevent cancer?
You've probably heard about a lot of different foods that prevent or treat cancer. But which ones are the best? Dr. L. Wattenberg of the University of Minnesota has been describing for decades the ability of certain foods to prevent cancer.

Back in the late 1980s, Dr. Wattenberg created the concept of "chemoprevention."  Here's what he meant.

Many cancers develop when we ingest certain chemicals, drugs, and other potentially toxic materials called carcinogens. Some carcinogens are even in foods that come straight from nature.  For instance, many grains have a fungi on them that cause cancer. And a host of other common foods are carcinogenic in the laboratory. Here's how they do it.

First, they have to be able to react with critical sites on a cell's DNA. Dr. Wattenberg calls this process "activation of the carcinogen." Then after they activate the carcinogen, the newly altered DNA changes the cell into a cancerous cell. By chemoprevention, Dr. Wattenberg is referring to the ability of certain foods to do one of two things.

One, they can block the activation of the carcinogen. Two, they can interrupt the process in which the changed DNA causes the cells to become cancerous. Interestingly enough, he has found that many of the foods that contain natural carcinogens also contain compounds that inhibit the activation of the very same carcinogens. This includes foods like coffee, tea, black pepper, and cinnamon. This makes a very strong case for eating whole, natural, non-GMO foods that are not processed into who-knows-what.

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One study in particular that Dr. Wattenberg conducted looked at the cancer-causing effect of NNK, a substance in the tobacco plant. When researchers give lab animals NNK, they develop cancer. Dr. Wattenberg conducted a series of experiments in which he pre-fed animals with various foods and then a short time later gave them a hefty dose of NNK. Here's what he found.

Substances called aromatic isothiocyanates, glucobrassicins, and indoles all act to prevent the activation of NNK. You'll find all of these substances in cruciferous vegetables. The most common cruciferous vegetables are cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale, and Brussels sprouts. The same thing also happened with sulphur compounds, which you'll find in garlic, and with the substance D-limonene, which is in abundance in citrus fruits.

This is particularly good news for me because I love all those veggies, especially when I sauté them in garlic and olive oil.

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