In food-bearing plants, glucosinolates act as natural pesticides and are stored in the plant’s cells, ready to be released upon tissue damage. Similarly, when consumed by humans, the action of chewing releases the glucosinolates into the body, where they are transformed into bioactive compounds believed to have anticancer properties. These anticancer compounds operate on several fronts: triggering the body’s own detoxification systems, slowing cancer cell growth and supporting DNA repair. Chinese researchers have found lower levels of these compounds in people with lung cancer than in those who are cancer-free. Researchers at the University of Texas have found the same results among men in the United States.
The major dietary source of glucosinolates is cruciferous vegetables, the healing properties of which have been extolled for ages. In fact, ancient Roman healers believed that they could cure breast cancer by rubbing poultices made from cabbage on the chest. This may not be far from the truth. According to Jon Michnovicz, MD, PhD and president of the Foundation for Preventive Oncology, Inc. in New York City, “There are studies that show cabbage paste, when rubbed on animals, can prevent tumor development.”
Cabbage is perhaps the most compelling example of how glucosinolate containing vegetables can affect cancer. A review of 94 studies published in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed that in 70 percent of the studies, cabbage consumption was associated with a decreased risk in cancer, especially of the lung, stomach and colon. By contrast, broccoli was linked to a reduced cancer risk in 56 percent of the studies, cauliflower in 67 percent of the studies and Brussels sprouts in 29 percent of the studies.
Top glucosinolate sources include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts, kale and red cabbage.