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Cabbage family vegetables guard against breast cancer

March 18, 2008 in Women's Health, Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News

Cruciferous vegetables may help lower the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly for women who carry a particular gene variant linked to the disease, suggests findings from a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

These findings add to evidence that compounds in cruciferous vegetables may help fight cancer.

Chinese cabbage and white turnips are two cruciferous vegetables common in the Chinese diet; in Western diets, the most common cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale. The vegetables contain certain compounds that the body converts into substances called isothiocyanates, which are thought to have anti-cancer effects.

In the study, researchers found that among more than 6,000 Chinese women, those with the highest intake of Chinese cabbage and white turnips had a somewhat lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer than those with the lowest intake. . But the apparent benefit was stronger among women who carried two copies of a particular variant of a gene called GSTP1.

Among these women, those with the highest intake of any cruciferous vegetables had about half the risk of breast cancer as those who ate the fewest, according to the researchers.

GSTP1 is an enzyme that helps detoxify the body of potentially cancer-causing substances. Some studies have suggested that having a particular form of the gene -- the Val variant -- may raise a woman's risk of breast cancer.

The current study found that women who carried two copies of the Val variant did, in fact, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer before menopause than women who had other variants in the GSTP1 gene.

But the excess risk was cut substantially in those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables.

It's possible that people who carry two Val variants of the GSTP1 gene excrete the beneficial isothiocyanates more quickly, and eating more cruciferous vegetables helps counter this.


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