According to a study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, a chemical pigment found in bright fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of lung cancer caused by smoking. Although the findings could offer actionable lifestyle changes to lower lung cancer risks, it should be noted that not smoking at all is still the best form of protection.
Fruits like oranges and strawberries, or vegetables like sweet red peppers and carrots are rich in a pigment compound known as carotenoids. A version of this compound, called beta-cryptoxanthin (BCX), is hypothesized to suppress tumor growth. Specifically, scientists at Tufts University believe that BCX can reduce the number of receptors for nicotine to bind, and thereby suppressing cancer growth in the lungs.
Nicotine is one of thousands of compounds in tobacco smoke that’s been linked to lung cancer. When inhaled, the nicotine binds to receptors on the surface of the lungs called nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α7 (α7-nAChR). This initiates a chain of events that causes cell growth and proliferation – hallmark beginnings of a tumor. BCX, researchers theorized, reduces the amount of α7-nAChR, which may prevent nicotine-induced lung cancers from forming.
The team tested their hypothesis in mice exposed to nicotine-derived carcinogen. In mice treated with BCX, there were fewer lung tumors as compared to untreated mice. BCX also seemed to stop the cancer from spreading, suggesting this compound could halt lung cancer metastasis.
Of note, the dose the team used to achieve their anticancer effects was not exorbitant. The equivalent daily dose for humans would be about 870 micrograms, which is roughly one red pepper or a few tangerines per day.
The results suggest that short of quitting, smokers should really embrace fruits and vegetables – the more colorful, the better.
"For smokers, tobacco product users, or individuals at higher risk for tobacco smoke exposure, our results provide experimental evidence that eating foods high in BCX may have a beneficial effect on lung cancer risk, as suggested by previous epidemiological studies,” said Xiang-Dong Wang, the study’s lead author.
However promising these results appear, it’s important to reiterate that no smoking or quitting smoking remains the best way to avoid the cancer risks associated with tobacco.