You’ve probably heard of eating foods of every color of the rainbow throughout the day, but if you have a family history of cancer, there’s one color that should always be present on your plate: green.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and brussel sprouts may not sound all that appealing to most people, but they have incredible benefits when it comes to maintaining a healthy body and preventing cancer.
Two of its most popular family members, broccoli and watercress, are no exception.
How they Fight Cancer
Cruciferous vegetables are full of compounds like glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals. These chemical give the vegetables their strong odor and taste (1).
Chewing your food activates more bioavailable compounds likes Indole-3-carbinol (an indole) and sulforaphane (an isothiocyanate), which fight cancer by protecting cells from DNA damage, combating carcinogens, reducing inflammation and inducing apoptosis in cancer cells.
They also prevent blood vessel formation in tumors as well as tumor migration. In mouse studies, the compounds successfully cured bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach cancers and improved melanoma as well as esophageal, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers (2).
However, results in human studies have been mixed and more research on the real-life applications of these compounds is underway.
When Indole-3-carbinol is digested, it releases 3,3′-diindolylmethane (DIM), which improves survival and longevity of cancer patients (3).
These substance quickly make their way into the bloodstream after your meal and flow through your body to prevent cancer. They even work on reversing the progression of precancerous cells (4).
While some foods need to be eaten in astronomical portions to have a powerful anti-cancer effect, a normal daily portion of broccoli or watercress is all you need to reduce DNA damage cause by free radicals. Cruciferous vegetables also reduce DNA damage in white blood cells, which naturally fight off cancer (5).
Prof. Rowland, who led a 2007 study on the subject explains: “Blood cell DNA damage is an indicator of whole body cancer risk, and, the results support the theory that consumption of watercress is linked to an overall reduced risk of cancer at various sites in the body. The nature of the study group also means that the results are applicable to the general population eating a normal diet.”
Diet As A Complimentary Treatment
Some people may think that chemotherapy completely kills cancer cells, but stem cells from the targeted tumor still thrive within the body. These cells can travel through the body in develop into new tumors without being detected, leaving cancer survivors more prone to being affected yet again by the disease.
“These tiny cells are very difficult to detect in a tumor,” says Moul Dey, lead study author . “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
However, a team of researchers from South Dakota State University found that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower actually prevent cancer relapse. In fact, they contain a compound called phenethyl isothiocyanate, which is released as you chew the vegetables. This same compound can be found in land cress and watercress.
Phenethyl isothiocyanate was found to kill 75% of cancer stem cells within 24 hours (6).
This compound is also activated when pulsing foods together in a blender, which may explain the cancer-fighting ability of green smoothies. “It just needs some physical force to break the cells,” professor Dey explains. “And those two things that are within the cells of the vegetables simply need to come in contact with each other.”
Other Anti-Cancer Effects
Both broccoli and watercress contain high levels of vitamin C, which sneaks into cancer cells and induces apoptosis (7,8). This works particularly well in fighting colon cancer. Their high fiber content also works against cancers of the digestive tract by absorbing toxic bile and sweeping out any stuck-on grime from the walls of your intestines.
Additionally, these veggies are alkaline, meaning that they contribute towards transforming your body from a cancer and inflammation friendly state to a cancer-killing and disease-free alkaline state.