The secret of broccoli’s cancer fighting powers

Broccoli contains a substance that removes a mutated gene. Image: Shutterstock

There’s now another reason to eat your vegetables. Scientists have discovered the biochemical secret of broccoli’s cancer fighting abilities.

Fung-Lung Chung and colleagues have found that certain substances in broccoli and its vegetable relatives appear to target and block a defective gene that has been linked to cancer.

Previous experiments conducted by the scientists demonstrated that isothiocyanates (ITCs), a substance found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, watercress and cauliflower, seemed to stop the growth of cancers. But no-one knew how they worked.

The scientists studied the effects of ITCs on cancer cells, including breast, colon and lung cancer and discovered that they can remove a mutated tumour suppressor gene p53. The p53 gene plays a vital role in regulating the cell cycle and keeping cells from starting abnormal growths.

However, when the p53 gene itself is mutated, it does not provide that protection. This mutation occurs in half of all human cancers.

The ITCs not only remove the abnormal p53, but will leave a normal p53 in place. This discovery could lead to the formulation of drugs based on these ITCs that will improve the effectiveness of current treatments or lead to new method for preventing and treating cancer.

Source: The American Chemical Society.

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