JUN 28, 2016 11:44 AM PDT

Antioxidants in Broccoli May Prevent Mouth Cancer

If you don’t love and eat broccoli already, you might want to seriously reconsider! This is the sentiment of a new study that found extracts from cruciferous vegetables – like broccoli, cabbage, and garden cress – may protect against oral cancer.

The idea that broccoli may hold anticancer benefits is not a new one. Scientists have long known that vegetables like broccoli are high in an antioxidant compound known as sulforaphane. As an antioxidant, sulforaphane inhibits the oxidation of molecules, thereby buffering cells against damages brought on by carcinogens.

And mouths are one of the most vulnerable spots for carcinogen exposure – just imagine all the foods and liquids we consume every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 30,000 new cases of oral cancer every year. Of these, over 26 percent will lead to death. "With head and neck cancer, we often clear patients of cancer only to see it come back with deadly consequences a few years later," said Julie Bauman, first author of the study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

Bauman and her team decided to test whether sulforaphane-rich extracts from broccoli sprouts would indeed boost cells’ health. They first tested this idea on human head and neck cancer cells. Treatment with sulforaphane seemed to increase a protein that detoxifies carcinogens, thereby providing the cells protection from cancer.

Then, they tested their idea in 10 healthy volunteers who were asked to drink a concoction spiked with broccoli sprout extract. Though it may sound like an unpleasant drink, the volunteers didn’t complain. What’s more, the team found that the cells lining the mouths of the volunteers showed the same increase in the protective protein.
This effect was replicated in an animal experiment, whereby mice given the sulforaphane extract developed fewer tumors than the non-treated control mice.

As far as head and neck cancer, the present results are encouraging, but of course, more research has to be conducted for a definitive answer. The team has already initiated a larger clinical trial to test the effects of broccoli seed powder in survivors of head and neck cancer.

So, should we be chomping down on more broccoli? It wouldn’t hurt. Broccoli has one of the best nutritional profiles among vegetables. It boasts high fiber content, along with abundant vitamins and potassium. And in addition to anticancer benefits, a study found that sulforaphane and other antioxidants could be potential treatments for patients with progeria, a condition marked by abnormal accelerated cellular aging. If nothing else, this vegetable is quite delicious with garlic and melted cheese!

Additional source: MNT
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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