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Can A Cabbage A Day Keep Cancer Away?

If you are a woman, you should be concerned about breast cancer. If you are a man, you should be concerned about prostate cancer. And if you are concerned about either breast cancer or prostate cancer, you should know that eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, is really good for you. Eating half of a head of cabbage each day or extremely large amounts of other cruciferous vegetables is what it would take to get the kind of health risk reduction you're looking for-and that is neither practical nor palatable. But, if science could separate the cancer fighting substance in the vegetables and pack them into a pill or capsule, it might actually help save your life. That is precisely what has happened.

What is indole-3-- carbinol (I3C)?
The indole group of sulfur compounds binds to chemical carcinogens and activates enzymes that in turn detoxify those chemical carcinogens. Indole-3carbinol (130 is a phytonutrient that occurs naturally in certain cruciferous vegetables, appearing to affect estrogen metabolism in ways that might help prevent breast cancer,1 and indole-3-carbinol may also be critical in preventing or retarding prostate cancer.2 I3C is the specific phytonutrient that has been shown to act as a catalyst to pull estradiol down a benign pathway to 2-hydroxyestrone. After isolating I3C, scientists have been able to prepare nutraceuticals of I3C at the proper physiologic dose to help prevent both breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Every non-pregnant woman3 and every man should consider taking pharmacy grade I3C as part of his or her daily nutraceutical regimen for disease prevention.

What does indole-3-carbinol do?
In 1991 researchers at the Institute for Hormone Research in New York City proved that I3C significantly reduced the incidence and, in fact, the number of tumors in female mice prone to developing breast cancer. In human studies, levels of "strong" estrogen declined and levels of "weak" estrogen increased and most important, there was a marked decrease in the level of the estrogen metabolite associated with breast and endometrial cancer (16-- alpha-hydroxyestrone). Furthermore, I3C fits into the aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor but according to researchers at Texas A&M, unlike the toxic chemical dioxin, that also activates the Ah receptor, I3C not only positively affects estrogen metabolism but I3C also can keep dioxin out of the cells.

But if I3C alters estrogen metabolism, how can it be effective in preventing or even retarding prostate cancer? When the cancer cell is stopped at the checkpoint, the body has more of a chance to destroy it before it can grow. Furthermore, because it is the balance of hormone cells in prostate cancer that is important, rather than the level of any particular hormone, how is it possible for I3C to be effective against prostate cancer? The answer is that its effectiveness against prostate cancer comes from the other anticancer properties that I3C contains. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to force cancer cells to stop at "checkpoints," like a normal, healthy cell does before replicating. It also has the potential to help restore communication to the sex hormones through the Ah receptor discussed above. In prostate cancer, sex hormone cells cannot communicate normally, telling other cells to do things like grow. It appears that I3C is one of a few substances4 that have the ability to restore communications.

Will indole-3-carbinol absolutely prevent breast cancer or stop or retard prostate cancer?
No one knows for sure, but current government studies are very promising. The problem seems to be that these studies are too limited in scope (less than 250 women) and lacking the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into the research and development of synthetic chemicals like tamoxifen. Can it be that the money for research and development is more likely to go to drugs on which companies can claim patents rather than on such natural substances as those found in a head of cabbage?

Meanwhile, even the American Cancer Society has advised men to reduce their risk of prostate cancer by increasing their intake of cruciferous vegetables. Studies, such as in 1998 from the University of California at Berkeley,5 have shown that indole-3-carbinol was 30 percent more effective than tamoxifen in inhibiting the growth of estrogen receptor-- positive breast cancer cells. Thus it would be wise to take heed of what your grandmother used to tell you: "Eat your vegetables. They're good for you."

1. American Institute for Cancer Research, September 25, 2000.

2. Cohen, J. H., et al. "Fruit and vegetable intakes and prostate cancer risk," Journal of the National Cancer Institute, (2000).Vol. 92 pp. 61-8.

3. It is important to note that pregnant women should not take I3C because it modulates estrogen. Many pregnant women have a natural aversion to cruciferous vegetables; this may be du, to the changes in estrogen metabolism that normally occur with pregnancy.

4. Cover, Carolyn M., Bjeldanes, Firestone et al. Journal of Biological Chemist February 13, 1998.

5. Journal of the British Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, August 2000, p.33.

6. Journal of Cellular Biochemisty Supplements 28/29:111-6. Strang Cancer Prevention Center, New York, NY.


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