Phytochemicals Fight Cancer

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Phytochemicals Fight Cancer

For many years, researchers have known diets high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure when compared with diets high in meat.

More recently, it was discovered the disease-preventing effects of these foods are partly due to antioxidants – specific vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that help prevent cancer and other disorders by protecting cells against damage from oxidation.

Now, researchers have found fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes contain yet another group of health-promoting nutrients.

Called phytochemicals, these substances appear to be powerful ammunition in the war against cancer and other disorders.

Phytochemicals are the biologically active substances in plants responsible for giving them color, flavor, and natural disease resistance.

To understand how phytochemicals protect your body against cancer, you need to know cancer formation is a multistep process.

Phytochemicals seem to fight cancer by blocking one or more of the steps leading to cancer.

For instance, cancer can begin when a carcinogenic molecule – from the food you eat or the air you breathe – invades a cell.

But if sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in broccoli, also reaches the cell, it activates a group of enzymes to whisk the carcinogen out of the cell before it can cause any harm.

Other phytochemicals are known to prevent cancer in other ways.

Flavonoids, found in citrus fruits and berries, keep cancer-causing hormones from latching on to cells in the first place.

Genistein, found in soybeans, kills tumors by preventing the formation of the capillaries needed to nourish them.

Indoles, found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage, increase immune activity and make it easier for your body to excrete toxins.

Saponins, found in kidney beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils, may prevent cancer cells from multiplying.

P-coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, found in tomatoes, interfere with certain chemical unions creating carcinogens.

The list of these protective substances goes on and on.

Tomatoes alone are believed to contain an estimated 10,000 different phytochemicals.

Although no long-term human studies have shown specific phytochemicals stop cancer, research on phytochemicals supports the more than 200 studies linking lowered cancer risk with a diet rich in grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

And, animal and in vitro studies have shown how some phytochemicals prevent carcinogens from promoting the growth of specific cancers.

For instance, the phytochemical phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), found in cabbage and turnips, has been shown to inhibit the growth of lung cancer in rats and mice.

Among other things, PEITC protects the cells’ DNA from a potent carcinogen found in tobacco smoke.

Researchers have been able to isolate some phytochemicals, and a number of companies are now selling concentrates containing phytochemicals from vegetables like broccoli.

These may be used as supplemental sources of some of these nutrients.

However, such pills should not be seen as replacements for fresh whole foods.

Because several thousand phytochemicals are currently known to exist, and because new ones are being discovered all the time, no supplement can possibly contain all of the cancer-fighters found in a shopping basket full of fruits and vegetables.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get a healthy dose of phytochemicals at every meal.

Almost every grain, legume, fruit, and vegetable tested has been found to contain these substances.

Moreover, unlike many vitamins, these substances don’t appear to be destroyed by cooking or other processing.

Genistein, the substance found in soybeans, for instance is also found in soybean products like tofu and miso soup.

Similarly, the phytochemical PEITC, found in cabbage, remains intact even when the cabbage is made into coleslaw or sauerkraut.

Of course, by eating much of your produce raw or only lightly cooked, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits not just of phytochemicals, but of all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients fresh whole foods have to offer.

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Dick and Lenay

email: lenay@dickandlenay.com – 715-431-0657

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