Long ago, Native Americans created many myths to explain why plants had such awesome medicinal powers. One of those myths went like this.
When the white men came to the New World, many white hunters wantonly killed animals, such as the buffalo – not for food and clothing, but purely for sport. The animals were enraged by such behavior and decided to put an end to the human race by turning their own flesh into poison. This would have surely worked, the Indians said, but for the plant kingdom, which convened a council where it was decided that the plants would become medicine for the illnesses created by the animals. Thus was born the healing power of plants.
Today, scientists have only scratched the surface in their understanding of the power of plants to heal. And among the most powerful of these healing foods, they have found, are a special family of vegetables known as the crucifers.
The crucifer vegetables, which include broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, and turnips are so chock full of healing chemicals that scientists now regard them as living forms of chemotherapy.
As immune boosters, they are remarkable. But no food, it seems, can match them for their ability to protect genes and stop cancers from growing.
Changing The Way Your Genes Behave
The old research was purely epidemiological, meaning that populations of people who ate broccoli and other crucifers experienced lower rates of many forms of cancer. But as scientific tools became more sophisticated, and researchers have been able to peer in the world of genes, new discoveries have been made.
This new research now shows that crucifers act on genes to literally stop the formation of tumors of the breast, prostate, lungs, uterine lining, colon, liver, and cervix. Moreover, certain chemicals in broccoli and its cousins trigger the production of enzymes that cause cells to rid themselves of poisons that might otherwise cause cancer.
A study published in the medical journal, Nutrition and Cancer (2009;61 (2):232-7), examined the effects of broccoli on the genes of 20 men, ten of whom were smokers. All the men ate a 200 gram serving (about 7 ounces) of broccoli per day, for ten days straight. Blood samples of the men were taken to determine the amount of damage done to their DNA. These blood tests were done before the study began, and then again at 10 days (when the stopped eating the broccoli) and again 30 and 40 days after the study began.
We should pause here to say that all of us experience damage to our DNA. Strands of DNA get broken. When that happens, DNA coding can mutate, causing some cells to become cancerous.
When the scientists examined the blood samples from study participants, they found that DNA damage dropped significantly in both the smokers and the non-smokers. Fewer strands of DNA were now broken, thanks to the daily consumption of broccoli. But as the broccoli washed out of the body, its protective effects decreased and DNA damage returned to previous levels.
In addition, the researchers found that in the smokers, the oxidized proteins – which also damage DNA — had also fallen significant. Oxidants, or free radicals, are highly reactive molecules that deform cells and damage DNA, sometimes causing mutations and various types of cancer.
Protection Against Breast And Prostate Cancer
Women who eat crucifers are far less likely to contract breast cancer, studies have shown. Among the reasons, scientists have found, is that these vegetables change the way the body metabolizes estrogen, the female hormone that can promote the onset of breast cancer. Certain forms of estrogen are highly toxic to the hormone sensitive organs, such as the breast, uterus, and ovaries. Chemicals found in broccoli, collard, mustard, Brussels sprouts, and other crucifers transform these cancer-causing estrogens into benign substances that are easily eliminated from the body.
These same foods protect cells from cancer in a variety of other ways, including by helping the body eliminate powerful cancer-causing toxins that can trigger the onset of cancer cells and tumors. One of the most power of these detoxifying chemicals is known as sulforaphane, which the scientists at Johns Hopkins University have been studying extensively.
Scientists tell us that sulforaphane can literally turn on genes that recognize cancer-causing agents, and then trigger de-toxifying actions that literally wipe out both the toxins and any small nests of cancer that they might produce.
“Carcinogens mutate the DNA in genes, which leads to cancer,” said Dr. Shyam Biswal, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “Now we know that sulforaphane present in broccoli can turn