Broccoli May Help Fight Cancer, According To New Research

mbg Contributor By Caroline Muggia
mbg Contributor
Caroline Muggia is a writer, environmental advocate, and registered yoga teacher (E-RYT) with a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College.
Scientists Discover A Cancer-Fighting Property In Cruciferous Veggies

Image by Studiofena / Stocksy

Here at mbg, we talk a lot about healing through food. Whether it's foods that reduce inflammation or support a healthy microbiome, we can't get enough of natural ways to support our health. 

This time around, the spotlight is on the cancer-fighting properties of cruciferous veggies including some favorites like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Thanks to a particular compound found in all of them, we may have a way to shut down a cancer-causing gene. 

In a new study published in Science, researchers found that by directing this disease-fighting ingredient found in the veggies, known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C), toward a cancer-causing gene called WWP1, they could inhibit tumor growth. 

How did they figure this out?

It started with focusing on a well-known gene called PTEN, which is supposed to help stop tumor growth but is often deactivated in those with cancer. Their idea was to see if they could find a way to reactivate the PTEN gene to kick-start its tumor-fighting properties. 


What's the relationship between WWP1 and PTEN?

They analyzed cancer-prone cells in mice and humans and found that the gene WWP1 releases an enzyme that stops PTEN from working correctly. After investigating the function of the enzyme, they saw that the I3C ingredient in cruciferous veggies could be a potential antidote to the adverse effects of the WWP1 gene. 

To test this, they gave I3C to cancer-prone lab animals and discovered that it stopped WWP1 from working and, in turn, allowed PTEN to get to work on slowing the growth of the tumor.

How can we get the benefits?

While we're practically headed out the door to stock up on these cancer-fighting veggies, Yu-Ru Lee, Ph.D., member of the Pandolfi lab and an author of the paper, points out that in order to get these benefits you'd have to eat 6 pounds of the raw cruciferous veggies, which doesn't sound too appealing. Luckily, the team is working to make it so we can get the benefits without having to eat that many raw vegetables. 

"Either genetic or pharmacological inactivation of WWP1 with either CRISPR technology or I3C could restore PTEN function and further unleash its tumor suppressive activity," said Pandolfi in a statement. "These findings pave the way toward a long-sought tumor suppressor reactivation approach to cancer treatment."

The plan is to develop a stronger, more targeted WWP1 suppressor that can more aggressively stop tumor growth sans the heavy intake of raw veggies. In the meantime, it's pretty exciting to think that this new knowledge about some of our favorite veggies may inform the next new cancer therapy. 

So, it's probably not a great idea to eat 6 pounds of raw cruciferous veggies today, but it's worth trying to incorporate more of these into your diet, as this study reinforces the fact that these foods do contain cancer-fighting properties. If you're hoping for some creative ways to add more in, we have delicious recipes that include raw Brussels sprouts and some with roasted cauliflower. Start experimenting in the kitchen and feel good knowing you're eating foods that are literally healing from the inside out.

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