Broccoli, Cauliflower May Fight Cancer

Natural Chemical in Cruciferous Veggies Studied in Mice

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 19, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

May 19, 2006 -- Cruciferous vegetables -- which include broccoli and cauliflower -- may help prevent polyps that can lead to coloncancer.

The finding comes from a study of mice, not people. All of the mice had a mutation on their adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene. Mutations of that gene have been linked to higher risk of colon cancers in people.

The researchers included Ah-Ng Tony Kong, PhD, a pharmaceutics professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The study appears in the May 4 online edition of Carcinogenesis.

Kong's team didn't try to feed broccoli or cauliflower to mice. Instead, they added sulforaphane, a natural chemical found in cruciferous vegetables, to the diet of some of the mice.

The point was to see if sulforaphane might help stave off polyps in mice that were genetically at risk for colon cancer. Advances Against Colon Cancer

3 Different Diets

The researchers split the 8-week-old mice into three groups:

  • Normal diet with added sulforaphane (300 parts per million, or ppm)
  • Normal diet with even more sulforaphane (600 ppm)
  • Normal diet with no added sulforaphane (comparison group)

The mice followed those diets until they were 11 weeks old. After that, the scientists checked the mice for intestinal polyps.

Mice in both sulforaphane groups had fewer and smaller polyps than those in the comparison group. The group with the fewest, smallest polyps had gotten the diet richest in sulforaphane.

The polyps of mice in the sulforaphane groups showed greater apoptosis (programmed cell death) and seemed less likely to spread, the researchers report.

The researchers studied the mice for a brief time -- three weeks. They didn't follow the mice to see which ones developed cancer, how long any of the mice lived, or if sulforaphane affected those results.

It's too early to know if the results apply to people. But eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is widely recommended by health experts, so there's no reason not to put some cruciferous veggies on your plate.

Besides broccoli and cauliflower, cruciferous vegetables also include kale, turnip greens, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.