Smearing skin with broccoli can help reduce risk of cancer

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The Independent Online

Eating cabbage, cooking meat with garlic and smearing your skin with extract of broccoli can all help reduce the risk of cancer, scientists have found.

A series of studies presented yesterday to the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research add to the burgeoning evidence that changing your diet may be among the most effective ways of prolonging your life. Up to a third of cancers are thought to be associated with diet. Experts say eating more fruit and vegetables is the second most effective way to cut the risk of cancer, after not smoking.

In the latest studies, researchers from the University of New Mexico investigated the rapid rise in breast cancer among Polish women who emigrated to the US. The risk of breast cancer was three times higher among Polish women living in America than in their counterparts at home, suggesting a strong environmental factor.

Dorothy Rybaczyk-Pathak and colleagues evaluated the diet of Polish immigrants living in the Chicago and Detroit areas. They found that those who ate raw or short-cooked cabbage three times a week had a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who ate less than one serving a week.

In Poland, women eat 30lb of cabbage and sauerkraut a year, compared with 10lb a year for US women. Those who ate most cabbage during adolescence had the lowest rates of cancer. If cabbage is not to your taste, you could try rubbing an extract from it on your skin. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found it halved the rate of skin cancer in mice. Cabbage is a member of the brassica family which includes broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These vegetables contain glucosinolates which are broken down by chewing or cutting into sulphoraphane, which has been shown in previous studies to have anti-cancer properties.

Albena Dinkova-Kostova and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University applied an extract of sulphoraphane made from broccoli sprouts (the young broccoli plant) to the skin of hairless mice after they had been exposed to a dose of ultraviolet light equivalent to what a person would get spending a day sunbathing on the beach. After 20 weeks of "sunbathing" twice a week the mice had the extract painted on their backs twice a day for 11 weeks. The incidence and size of skin tumours in the treated mice was half of that in the untreated controls.

The extract did not act as a sunscreen but as a post-exposure treatment that appeared to inhibit the carcinogenic effects of the ultraviolet light. Dr Dinkova-Kostova said the findings suggested a "promising strategy" in adults who grew up before sunscreens were widely available.

Researchers from Florida A&M University found using garlic to flavour meat could help counter carcinogenic substances produced by cooking protein.

Ten superfoods to beat cancer


Member of the same family as sprouts, watercress and broccoli. Studies link eating lots of brassica with lower rates of cancer of the digestive system.


Favoured by the former US president Bill Clinton, this is the archetypal cancer preventive. It contains sulphoraphane, a phytochemical that helps destroy carcinogens


Containing the pungent phytochemicals called allylic sulphides, garlic has long been used as a natural medicine. Allylic sulphides may help ward off cell damage, thus preventing cancer.


An excellent source of vitamin C; half a red pepper provides all the vitamin C an adult needs in one day, they also contain anti-oxidant flavenoids and beta-carotene.


Rich in selenium, a mineral, important to people in the UK who mostly have low intakes. Some studies have suggested low levels increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.


The anti-oxidant lycopene is what makes them red. Some research has linked tomatoes - especially when cooked, canned or in pastes and sauces - with a lower risk of prostate cancer.


Contain allium compounds and are rich in quercetin, a phytochemical. Both of these are thought to reduce cancer as well as improving circulation and blood pressure.


One of the best sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. This is needed for healthy skin, a strong immune system and to help see in the dark.


As well vitamin C and flavenoids, they contain a phytochemical called ellagic acid, which some research has shown can help inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.


Richest in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant vitamin. Mixed with pumpkin seeds they provide a useful blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Source: World Cancer Research Fund