Cruciferous Vegetables: Natural Cancer Prevention

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Cruciferous vegetables are great for your healthOur body is an intricate system composed of trillions of cells and organs working together to create a highly complex functioning organism. Maintaining a balanced system is imperative for achieving optimal wellness. Any slight imbalance, however minor, can lead to inflammation and chronic illnesses. Eating a plant-based diet full of cruciferous vegetables, getting adequate sleep, and doing plenty of daily exercise can help keep your body’s operating system working properly and reduce your chances of developing an illness or disease. Some compounds found in cruciferous vegetables are even thought to be cancer-fighting. Most people are aware of the importance of eating a balanced diet containing plenty of vegetables, but the type of vegetables you eat can be equally important. Cruciferous vegetables are a great choice, and could also be life-saving.

Why Should You Eat Cruciferous Vegetables?

Yes, eating cruciferous vegetables is one of the most important choices you can make towards healthy, cancer-free living. These veggies have some pretty amazing benefits. By looking closely at their nutritional content, you’ll soon discover why they are major contributors to a vibrant healthy body.

What is a Cruciferous Vegetable?

Cruciferous vegetables, also referred to as “cole crops” in the United States, belong to the Brassica genus. This includes the following vegetables:

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Daikon
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mustard greens
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress

Cruciferous vegetables are an abundant source of many important elements your body needs, such as fiber and vitamins C, E, and K, folate, as well as several carotenoids and minerals. They also contain sulfuric compounds known as glucosinolates, which are what give these vegetables their bitter taste and distinct smell. Glucosinolates are just some of the elements in these superfoods—the“magic” components—that provide amazing health benefits. Cruciferous vegetables contain a remarkable amount of glucoraphanin making them a natural powerhouse. Sulforaphane stimulates our bodies to produce important enzymes and can also destroy carcinogens. The substance is particularly abundant in broccoli sprouts—about 20 to 50 times more abundant than in mature broccoli.

Kohlrabi is a member of the cruciferous vegetablesA study conducted by researchers from the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California found that people who consumed 3.7 half-cup servings of cooked broccoli per week were 50 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who did not eat broccoli at all.

Cruciferous veggies also contain a naturally occurring compound called indole-3-carbinol. This important compound is converted into a phytochemical known as 3,3′-diindolylmethane (DIM) during digestion which, in turn, balances estrogen hormone levels. Although more predominant in females, your estrogen levels must be kept in check regardless of your gender. DIM can also reduce your risk of hormone-dependent cancers such as prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer. The additional anti-estrogenic effects of this compound provide even greater levels of protection for women.

How to Incorporate These Superfoods into Your Diet

It’s a good idea to keep a supply of cruciferous veggies available at all times so you can boost the nutritional value of any meal. There are a number of different ways to add these amazing veggies to your meals. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Finely chop some kale and mix it into an omelet or pasta sauce;
  • Add some cauliflower to your mashed potatoes or just use cauliflower instead;
  • Throw in some watercress, rocket, or kale into homemade pesto and dips;
  • Find a recipe for simple and healthy kale chips;
  • Make your smoothies green by adding kale or watercress;
  • Stir-fry a mix of bok choy, kale, and cabbage then serve as a side dish with any meal;
  • Supercharge any soup by adding chopped kale, broccoli, or cauliflower.

How Can a Diet High in Cruciferous Vegetables Help?

Studies have demonstrated a multitude of life-altering health benefits associated with glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables.

  • Sulforaphane, the activating element required to form glucosinolates, can be toxic to malignant cancer cells. Properties of the element are currently being studied in relation to the potential prevention and treatment of several types of cancer, including breast, bladder, colon, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers.
  • A study conducted in Australia found a connection between older women who consume more cruciferous vegetables than average and a lower risk of atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart attack and stroke.
  • Eating a diet loaded with cruciferous vegetables may also benefit those suffering from depression. Sulforaphane was shown to have antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects on stressed mice.
  • Eating broccoli sprouts has been associated with preventing and minimizing inflammation; in particular, inflammation of the artery walls. Studies have also reported that sulforaphane can decrease renal and vascular oxidative stress, inflammation, and blood pressure; thereby assisting in reducing, or possibly eliminating, hypertension.
  • Research has also demonstrated positive effects of sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables in preventing obesity.
  • Sulforaphane-packed cruciferous veggies offer digestive support by eliminating the colonization of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers and gastric cancers.
  • Cruciferous vegetables may help decrease pain or assist with pain management. A group of female fibromyalgia patients reported reduced pain when taking a combination of broccoli powder mixed with ascorbigen, a vitamin C-derived indolyl carbohydrate also found in Brassica vegetables
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Veggies That Can Detoxify Our Lives

Toxins are present in our daily lives and are extremely difficult to avoid; therefore, it’s safe to say that everyone—from the chronically ill to supremely healthy—can benefit from foods that protect against toxins and eliminate them from the body. Cruciferous vegetables and their sulforaphane-rich tissues can help with this process.

In a randomized trial, 291 participants from a highly polluted rural area of China were divided into two groups. Half were given a concentrated extract of cruciferous vegetables over a 12-week period and the other half were only offered a placebo. Urine testing confirmed that significantly more toxins were eliminated from the bodies of those drinking the veggie-derived drink compared to those who drank the placebo. It has also been confirmed that the sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables can help rid your body of arsenic and pesticides.

Eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower is a great way to detoxify the various pathways of your body, especially if your body is not clearing toxins as efficiently as it should. If you are suffering from a chronic illness, such as adrenal fatigue, chances are high that your body’s natural detoxification process is not working properly. Moreover, this is likely placing additional strain on other organs such as the kidneys and adrenal glands.

Your liver and gastrointestinal system are directly connected. If you suffer from digestive issues, excess hormones may be reabsorbed, rather than being properly dealt with and removed. Furthermore, if your liver is clogged and overloaded with toxins, it cannot filter out excess hormones that are normally passed along to the gut for removal.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

The adrenal glands are two small walnut-shaped organs located above your kidneys. Your adrenals are primarily responsible for pumping out stress-related hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine when your body perceives a potential danger or threat. This system works perfectly when our bodies only have to deal with short moments of acute stress. However, chronic stress can overwork the adrenals, which will have to constantly pump out large quantities of stress hormones, and this can lead to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). The symptoms of adrenal fatigue include constant and debilitating fatigue, hormone imbalances, problems with blood glucose levels, decreased cognitive abilities, anxiety, sleep disorders, and weight gain.

The most damaging components of adrenal fatigue are hormone imbalances and increased inflammation. Inflammation has been identified as a driving force in almost all chronic diseases. If you are unwell, your body is most likely experiencing inflammation.

Hormone imbalances can alter every organ and cell involved in the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system, which begins at the base of the brain and sends signals to your adrenals via the pituitary glands. When your adrenal glands are engaged, direct physical responses will take place—of utmost importance, production of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through your body delivering messages to various organs and tissues. Their job is to signal to your organs when work needs to be done. Therefore, hormone imbalances can affect many different processes in the body, including metabolism, growth and development, reproduction, libido, and mood.

AFS Recovery and Diet

Managing your diet is one of the most important steps in both preventing and recovering from AFS. Luckily, nature has provided us with some incredible edible remedies, including cruciferous vegetables.

If you suffer from AFS, you may be experiencing a multi-faceted set of problems that are affecting your entire system. This is because once your adrenal glands become exhausted, they can no longer send out the proper signals to ensure appropriate levels of inflammation or normal blood sugar levels. If not properly addressed, AFS can lead to exhaustion and chronically debilitating health problems.

There are ways to help your body recover from AFS. For starters, a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of sleep, daily meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet full of cruciferous vegetables, can help your adrenals remain strong. Cruciferous vegetables are incredibly high in vitamin K, which can have a huge influence on inflammation and potentially reduce the need for your adrenal glands to produce so much cortisol. Vitamin K allows your adrenals to rest and regain strength.

Veggies in the cruciferous family are also rich in antioxidant-boosting vitamins A and C, which help fight free radicals throughout your body to prevent cancer.

The tremendous amount of benefits obtained by eating cruciferous vegetables cannot be overlooked and everyone should take advantage of this amazing gift from nature. However, it’s important to remember that before starting any new diet or supplement you should consult with a nutritionist or your primary care doctor. Many chronic illnesses can cause food allergies and sensitivities and should be monitored closely. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, it’s important to be cautious about the foods you eat. Supervision by a knowledgeable healthcare provider is advisable, particularly when starting any new meal plan. Your body can change quite dramatically during different stages of a disease, so food you once tolerated may no longer be safe to consume.

Moreover, it’s best to eat everything in moderation. Too many cruciferous vegetables can cause health-related issues of their own. This particular family of plants have a compound called thiocyanate that when over-consumed can affect your body’s ability to properly absorb iodine. This can lead to a condition called hypothyroidism characterized by an enlarged and underactive thyroid gland. You may notice symptoms such as weight gain, low energy levels, and constipation. Too many of these veggies can also throw off your body’s estrogen balance. If you are prone to hormonal issues or have hormone imbalances as a result of AFS, it’s definitely best to eat cruciferous vegetables in moderation.

© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Yes, cruciferous vegetables are a healthy addition to everyone’s diet, but particularly important if you are suffering from a chronic condition like adrenal fatigue. Many elements within these vegetables can help you heal, fight inflammation, and balance your hormones, among many other benefits.

Cruciferous vegetables
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