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Studies Find Broccoli, Vitamin E Fight Cancer - 2002-05-31


To avoid two common cancers, people may want to eat broccoli and broccoli sprouts, and take vitamin-E supplements. Those are the findings of two studies published in the current issue of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Broccoli contains a compound, called sulphoraphane, that researchers say is many times more powerful than modern antibiotics when it comes to killing the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, or h-pylori for short.

H-pylori lives in the stomach and is recognized as the primary cause of stomach ulcers. It has also been implicated in stomach cancer, a leading cause of cancer death throughout the developing world and Asia.

"Stomach cancer is, worldwide, the number-two cancer. And is particular prevalent in Asia and Japan, for instance, [where] 80-percent of the population over 65-years of age has Helicobacter pylori infections," says Paul Talalay, a pharmacology professor and researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has been researching sulphoraphane in broccoli since 1992.

Professor Talalay says that in test-tube experiments, sulphoraphane shows remarkable action in killing h. pylori. "The surprising finding was that Helicobacter pylori [were] potently inhibited in its growth by sulphoraphane," he says. "We had not expected this, but it was very clear that sulphoraphane inhibited even strains of Helicobacter clinically that are resistant to antibiotics."

When it infects, H-pylori also burrow into the cells of the stomach lining, avoiding antibiotics. In experiments with sulphoraphane, the compound completely wiped out the bacterium both inside and outside stomach-lining cells.

Dr. Talalay and colleague, Jed Fahey, say the study began after the researchers discovered that broccoli sprouts are a much more potent source of sulphoraphane than broccoli. The discovery was made by accident, after workers with peptic ulcers at a food processing plant reported feeling better after nibbling on the sprouts.

Professors Talalay and Fahey founded a company that produces broccoli sprouts for sale to supermarkets. In some regions of the world, Professor Fahey notes broccoli sprouts would be less expensive and more practical than the current treatments for H-pylori. "The recommended or standard therapy to cure Helicobacter is a treatment with, not one, but at least two antibiotics, perhaps even three antibiotics, and a proton-pump inhibitor, or a stomach acid reducing agent. And this is the so-called triple or quadruple therapy," he says. "Although it is relatively inexpensive by Western terms, it is not something that would be really easily implemented in some very poor regions of the world where antibiotics are not a fact of life."

Studies of broccoli sprouts in people with ulcers in Japan are scheduled to get underway shortly.

Meanwhile, taking vitamin-E supplements daily may prevent prostate cancer in men. That is the finding of researcher Shuyuan Yeh and colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York.

Professor Yeh's team found that vitamin-E interferes with two proteins that are vital in the development of prostate cancer. The proteins are prostate specific-antigen, PSA, and the androgen receptor.

When cancer cells were exposed to vitamin-E in a petri dish, PSA levels dropped 80 to 90-percent, a sign of slowed cancer growth. Also, researchers saw a 25 to 50-percent reduction in the number of cancer cells.

Professor Yeh says she is very encouraged by the results of her study, and recommends vitamin-E for men, after first checking with their doctors. "Based on past 10-years (of) clinical trial results, there are really no side effects to taking vitamin-E as a daily supplement," she says. "So, it is really promising."

Professor Yeh says that many cooking oils, including corn, peanut, and soybean oils, are rich sources or vitamin E.

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