In a study from the University of Pittsburgh, researchers found that potent doses of broccoli sprout extract activate a “detoxification” gene and may help prevent cancer recurrence in survivors of head and neck cancer.
Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S., but that burden is far greater in many developing countries.
With head and neck cancer, doctors often clear patients of cancer only to see it come back with deadly consequences a few years later.
Unfortunately, previous efforts to develop a preventative drug to reduce this risk have been inefficient, intolerable in patients, and expensive.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and garden cress, have a high concentration of the naturally occurring molecular compound sulforaphane, which could protect people against environmental carcinogens.
In the study, the team treated human head and neck cancer cells in the laboratory with varying doses of sulforaphane and control and compared them to normal, healthy cells that line the throat and mouth.
The sulforaphane induced both types of cells to increase their levels of a protein that turns on genes that promote the detoxification of carcinogens, like those found in cigarettes, and protect cells from cancer.
In a small experiment, 10 healthy volunteers drank or swished fruit juice mixed with broccoli sprout extract for several days.
The volunteers had no big problems tolerating the extract and the lining of their mouths showed that the same protective genetic pathway activated in the laboratory cell tests was activated in their mouths, meaning that the sulforaphane was absorbed and directed to at-risk tissue.
The team also found mice who received the sulforaphane developed far fewer tumors than their counterparts who did not receive the extract.
The results of the mouse, human, and lab studies have been so successful that the team has started a larger clinical trial in volunteers previously cured of head and neck cancer.
These participants are taking capsules containing broccoli seed powder, which is more convenient to take regularly than the extract mixed with juice.
For more information about cancer risk, please see recent studies about common vegetables that may help lower your cancer risk, and results showing that most cancers are caused by these 5 things.
The study was published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research and conducted by Julie Bauman et al.
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