Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Beneficial Brassicas

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are all members of the botanical brassica family, more commonly known as the cruciferous vegetables. Epidemiological studies consistently show that diets high in cruciferous vegetables are associated with lower incidence of certain cancers. Now, most diets high in vegetables are associated with lower rates of cancer, so by itself, that’s not remarkable. The interesting thing about the brassicas is that their anti-carcinogenic effect is not necessarily due to their high anti-oxidant content, but rather to their direct effect on the liver. Brassica vegetables actually push the liver’s enzyme system to increase its detoxification abilities.

The liver plays a crucial role for us by using enzymes to disassemble the chemicals we ingest. The proper functioning of the liver’s detoxification system is critical for the removal of carcinogens, and hence the prevention of cancer. Most cancer is due to exposure to environmental carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Exposure to carcinogens combined with antioxidant deficiencies and sluggish liver enzymes adds up to a significant increase in one’s chances of developing cancer.

The protective effect of the brassicas is due to their high content of something called glucosinolates. Once these vegetables are chewed and digested, glucosinolates are converted into two types of highly reactive compounds which work together as powerful stimulants of the liver's detoxification pathways. One type works on general detox, while research has shown that the other helps to break down estrogen thus thwarting the growth of estrogen-sensitive cancer cells in the breast.

It is estimated that about 3-5 servings of vegetables from the brassica family a week is enough to give your liver a boost. So do yourself a favor and pick up some cruciferous veggies at your next visit to the market—they’re in season!

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the October 2008 Newsletter