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Lung Cancer Risk Reduced by Broccoli

Broccoli has been the brunt of many jokes; some people love it and others would rather fill up on another vegetable. But most people believe that broccoli is good for health. A recent report in the prestigious journal The Lancet explains there appears to be more reason to believe that eating broccoli may be good for health.


The key to many of the reputed health benefits of broccoli is the presence of a family of compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are chemical compounds that contain nitrogen bonded to carbon which is bonded to sulphur. Broccoli is a good source of isothiocyanates as are cabbage and bok choy. Isothiocyanates contribute to the unique taste of broccoli and other related vegetables. Compounds that contains sulphur often have pungent flavours and odours; the strong taste of mustard is due to an isothiocyanate.

Chinese researchers reported in The Lancet that of the 18,000 men whom they screened for lung cancer, those patients who had measurable amounts of isothiocyanates in their bodies had a 36% reduced risk of developing lung cancer. The research was carried out in a part of China known to have a high number of smokers and at the same time a high consumption of vegetables containing isothiocyanates.

An equally important finding was that those subjects who had a genetic make-up that prevented them from metabolizing isothiocyanates had more protection than those who were able to metabolize the compounds. This is more evidence that supports the idea that both heredity (your genes) and environment (your diet) impact on diseases such as cancer. The more we know about our genes, the easier we will be able to identify people who are more sensitive to certain threats to their health.

The article points out that eating broccoli should not to be considered as a way for smokers to avoid lung cancer. Smoking alone increases an individual=s risk of contracting lung cancer by 1000%. However, as shown in the Chinese data, smokers can then reduce this risk by about 36% if they consume broccoli.

Broccoli Facts
Name origin:comes from the Latin brachium, because of the shape of the part we eat
Production:California is the state producing the largest amount of broccoli - 505,000 metric tons in 1991
Nutrition Information:high in water, low in calories, a source of iron, almost equal amounts of calcium and phosphorus, excellent source of potassium


S. J London, J-M.Yuan, F-L. Chung, Y-T. Gao, G.A. Coetzee, R. K Ross, M. C. Yu Isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase M1 and T1 polymorphisms, and lung-cancer risk: a prospective study of men in Shanghai, China

The Lancet 356: 724-729 (2000)

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