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Phytochemicals could play a big role in cancer prevention

A group of mysterious compounds found in plant food, the phytochemicals remain a center of attraction for many researchers trying to find ways to beat cancer. While some of these chemicals have been recognized an effective way of preventing cancer, others seem to have to relation to cancer at all and many remain unidentified.

The identified phytochemicals that are associated with a protection against cancer seem to interact with other chemicals in our body to create a shield. Here are some of the most popular phytochemicals of this group.

  1. Curcumin

Happy and young cancer survivor after successful chemotherapy

The dried rhizome of turmeric contains the main bioactive component, a phytochemical, Curcumin. This chemical supports the concept of the effect of phytochemicals on multiple cascades in the cells. The protective property of curcumin is attributed to its ability to induce apoptosis or programmed cell death. While normal cells successfully complete their cycles ending with apoptosis, this property is completely lost in tumor cells.

This chemical targets a multitude of molecular interactions including its attachment to 33 different intracellular proteins. Its effects have been studied in breast, lung, colorectal, and cervical cancers with findings indicating an active role in cancer prevention.

  1. Phytoestrogens

soy beans after harvest

This group of phytochemicals has been extensively studied because of their structural similarity to the hormone estrogen. The group includes isoflavones which are found in large amounts in soy food. Other members of the group are lignans and coumestans.Human estrogen is an active cause of cancer initiation caused by mutations.

As Phytoestrogens have a nearly same molecular structure and a stronger affinity to the estrogen receptors outside cells, they compete with the human estrogen for attaching to the receptors. By deactivating estrogen by competitive elimination, these are helpful in preventing breast cancer.

  1. Isothiocyanates

Young woman looking at a Brussels sprout on a fork

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts contain a phytochemical that is a known preventer of cancer in non-smokers called Isothiocyanate. This chemical occurs in a conjugated form as glucosinolates in vegetables and is a potent cancer protector.

Upon chewing these vegetables, the conjugated form is broken down by the action of an enzyme called myrosinase to liberate isothiocyanate. This chemical has been observed to inhibit tumors of thelung, mammary glands, liver, esophagus, bladder, and forestomach in rats. Watercress contains a derivative of this compound called phenethyl-isothiocyanate. This chemical is been researched as a possible way of preventing cancer in smokers. The chemical is found to bring about inhibition of pre-neoplastic and neoplastic cells in rats.

  1. Catechins


These phytochemicals are found in black and green tea and act similar to antioxidants. Free radicals are the primary cause that brings about genetic mutations to create carcinoma. These are liberated by carcinogens and also by a range of normal processes. Antioxidants like Vitamin A, C, and E eliminate these free radicals to prevent damage to DNA. Catechins are also found in wine, coffee, and some fruits like apples.

  1. Sulforaphane


Studied for its effects on breast cancer cells, sulforaphane was found to be well tolerated and efficiently slowed cancer cell multiplication in early stages. Found in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli, these phytochemicals were long known as acancer preventive agent.

Their effects on slowing cancer cell multiplication and hence limiting disease progression have led to research for their applications in cancer treatment.

  1. Flavonoids


A variety of fruits and vegetables are a rich source of Flavonoids. The chemical can also be ingested through sources like red wine, red and purple grape juice, and black and green tea. This compound as a range of applications in the body including preventions of oxidation of LDL (Bad cholesterol), preventing heart diseases, inhibiting inflammation, extending Vitamin C activity as an antioxidant, and preventing tumor growth.

Phytochemicals are fascinating researchers because of their potency of cancer prevention. Phytochemicals act by interacting with chemicals and their receptors within the human body and many of these are recommended for daily dietary consumption to prevent cancer formation.

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