I distinctly remember the disgust I felt whenever I had to eat my green vegetables as a child. I would pick at them on my plate, eventually wolfing them down at the promise of dessert or the insistence of my parents.
Broccoli was among the chief offenders — unless it was doused in processed cheese, of course. “Broccoli prevents cancer,” my mom would tell me, hoping that the threat of illness might encourage my healthy eating habits.
For years, cancer researchers have investigated the health benefits of eating broccoli and other vegetables in the ‘cruciferous vegetable’ family. According to the Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, arugula, kale, cabbage, turnips, radishes and even wasabi.
These vegetables have long been thought to be linked to our bodies’ fight against cancer, and now a new study out of Boston, Massachusetts, is giving much credence to those warnings from mom to “eat your broccoli.”
The journal Science recently published a study that investigated the tumor-suppressing properties of a gene known as PTEN. The study was led and co-authored by Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi, who is also the Director of the Cancer Research Institute at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
An accomplished geneticist and researcher, Pandolfi holds several awards and honors around the world. According to the Pandolfi Lab, he is currently a Professor of Medicine and Pathology at Harvard Medical School and holds the Aresty Endowed Chair of Medicine.
The Harvard Gazette explained that Pandolfi’s study explored how cruciferous vegetables contain a molecule that interferes with the gene (known as WWP1) responsible for cancerous tumor growth. This molecule is called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), and reportedly helps to free up the natural cancer-fighting properties of PTEN.
According to the Harvard Gazette, PTEN is “regularly targeted by cancers, which seek to delete, mutate, or otherwise inactivate it.” Pandolfi believes that PTEN is “one of the most important cancer suppressors in the history of cancer genetics.”
“The study’s really exciting,” he said. “I’ve been bombarded by journalists — because of the broccoli connection, let’s be honest. Forget what you think about the science, the fact that [we found] something that your grandma would say [is] good for you, it’s appealing.”
Are you ready to start binge eating broccoli yet? Well not so fast.
Despite the promising nature of this research, The Harvard Gazette noted that the study suggested a person would have to ingest around six pounds of uncooked cruciferous vegetables daily to access the cancer-abating potential.
Based on this, the research team is now looking at ways to develop drugs that will help unlock PTEN’s true cancer-fighting ability.
Pandolfi’s report also emphasizes the broader potential health benefits of I3C. “We believe this class of drugs could be very important in human health beyond cancer,” he said.
According to the study, the researchers described this pathway as an “Achilles’ heel” that can be targeted for cancer patients. “These findings pave the way toward a long-sought tumor suppressor reactivation approach to cancer treatment,” the study concluded.
The team plans to continue their research to discover even more ways to utilize I3C in the fight against cancer that go beyond just triggering the tumor-suppressing ability of PTEN.
It’s amazing how the body works, and it’s encouraging to know that we are making so many huge strides in the fight against cancer!
In the meantime, don’t stop eating your broccoli!
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