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Anticancer shopping list: broccoli sprouts, cabbage, garlic

Oct. 31, 2005 -- Simple foods carry the most scientifically advanced anticancer compounds, scientists say.

The reports come from the fourth annual Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting, held by the American Association for Cancer Research.

At the cutting edge of these new frontiers is the finding that, well, that your mother was right. You really should eat your vegetables. They're full of newly discovered cancer-fighting compounds, says conference program chairman William G. Nelson, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University.

"Basic research is discovering more and more about the cancer-preventing properties of things we are eating," Nelson said at a news conference. "The idea of having more fruits and vegetables in the diet has more and more evidence to support it."

This year a Nobel Prize went to the scientists who in 1982 discovered H. pylori, the bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers. But stomach ulcers aren't all this nasty bug does to us.

H. pylori causes a condition called gastritis, in which the walls of the stomach become red and swollen. Gastritis enormously increases a person's risk of stomach cancer.

A compound called sulforaphane protects cells from injury. It also happens to kill H. pylori. As it turns out, there is a natural source bursting with sulforaphane: broccoli sprouts. Yes, the compound can be found in small amounts in regular, mature broccoli. But broccoli sprouts are by far the best source, says Akinori Yanaka, MD, PhD, of the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

Broccoli Sprouts: Eat Them

Yanaka's team first fed the sprouts to H. pylori-infected mice. As long as the mice kept eating the sprouts, they kept the ulcer bug at bay.

Then they studied 50 people with H. pylori infection. Half ate about 3.5 ounces of broccoli sprouts every day for two months. The other half ate alfalfa sprouts, which have almost exactly the same nutrients but totally lack sulforaphane.

"Only the broccoli-sprout group had significantly decreased H. pylori activity," Yanaka said at the news conference. "Only those who ate broccoli sprouts showed decreased gastritis. We concluded that eating broccoli sprouts offers a rich source of sulforaphane, which may be useful as a chemoprotection against gastric cancer."

The broccoli sprouts did not cure H. pylori infection, however. The bug roared back two months after patients stopped eating the sprouts.

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