By Neev M. Arnell
Men with early signs of developing prostate cancer were able to prevent tumor growth by eating broccoli four times a week, according to a British study covered on MSN. But broccoli is not the only cruciferous vegetable with anti-cancer properties.
Cabbage has a long history of use both as food and medicine, according to The George Mateljan Foundation for the World's Healthiest Foods. Manual laborers were fed salted cabbage with their rice, according to William Duffy's "Sugar Blues", to keep them strong and healthy during the building of the Great Wall of China. It was the only food they had besides their rice. Cabbage was also grown in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that held it in high regard as a general panacea capable of treating a host of health conditions.
Today, epidemiological studies provide evidence that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables are associated with lower risks of several types of cancer, according to Oregon State University. Cabbage in particular looks promising, boasting numerous cancer-preventing properties, including antioxidants and glucosinolates.
Red cabbage contains 36 different varieties of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoid phytonutrients that have been linked to protection from cancer, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Anthocyanins are naturally occurring pigments that give fruits and berries their red, blue and purple color. Another study by the ARS found that some varieties of the phytonutrient have twice the antioxidant effect of vitamin C.
Red cabbage is unique among the cruciferous vegetables in providing about 30 milligrams of the red anthocyanin in each half-cup serving. But even white cabbage -- the most commonly eaten variety of cabbage in the U.S. -- provides about 50 milligrams in a half-cup serving.
The cancer-preventing effects of cabbage are due, at least in part, to the antioxidant richness of the vegetable. Without enough antioxidants, we can experience a metabolic problem called oxidative stress, which can be a risk factor for development of cancer, according to The George Mateljan Foundation for the World's Healthiest Foods.
The anti-oxidant benefits of cabbage alone secure its position on the list of cancer-fighting foods but cabbage takes it a step further. The glucosinolates found in cabbage can be converted into isothiocyanate compounds, and these compounds show preventative effects for variety of different cancers, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer .
Isothiocyanates (pronounced eys-so-thigh-o-sigh-an-ate) stop carcinogens in three different ways, according to The Cancer Project: They prevent carcinogens from being activated, they counteract the effects of carcinogens once they have been activated and they speed up the removal of carcinogens from the body.
Studies have shown that risks of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract can be reduced by consuming isothiocyanate-rich vegetables, and the compounds are especially effective in fighting lung and esophageal cancers.
Cabbage is also proving to aid in the prevention of cancer due to a compound called Indole-3-carbinol. The compound, I3C, which is released when we chew cruciferous vegetables, has been shown to protect against the adverse effects of estrogen, according to The South African Journal of Natural Medicine. When one type of estrogen is broken down, it divides into metabolites, one which leads to high risk breast cancer and the other which leads to low risk. I3C can reduce the risk of breast cancer by increasing the production of the safer metabolite.