Nothing excites health journalists (and their readers) more than a story about the latest “superfood”. From pomegranates and watercress to Goji berries and even chocolate, we’re bombarded with tales about cancer-fighting fruit and veg.
Reading the news, you might be led to think that a diet of red wine and jam is all you need. And just this week the media is hailing broccoli juice as the next ‘cure for bladder cancer’.
Ed’s already gone into some detail as to why “superfood” stories are often scientifically misguided, and how it’s unlikely that eating these foods can cut cancer risk. But naturally-occurring chemicals do have their place in the fight against cancer – for example, aspirin (originally derived from willow bark) is being researched as a cancer- preventing drug.
And while we definitely don’t endorse glugging broccoli juice as a treatment for cancer (the Daily Mail doesn’t count as a peer-reviewed journal) and – contrary to the news report – we’re not investigating the specific juice recipe in question, we are funding a study to test whether a chemical found in broccoli can help to curb the development of cervical cancer. And that’s not all – we’re also funding research to get to the scientific root of some of these so-called “superfoods”.
CRISP-1: broccoli and cancer prevention
Professor Peter Sasieni is a highly respected researcher into cancer screening and prevention. Funded by Cancer Research UK, Professor Sasieni is running a large-scale clinical trial called CRISP-1, testing whether di-indolylmethane (DIM) tablets can prevent pre-cancerous changes in cervix from progressing into full-blown cancer.
The trial’s involving around 3,000 women and is placebo-controlled, meaning that women either get DIM or a dummy drug. Once the study is finished, the results will be analysed and published in a scientific journal. Maybe DIM will be useful for cancer prevention, maybe it won’t, but the only way to find out is to carry out a scientifically rigorous study like this.
Phytochemicals and “superfoods”
We’re also funding an internationally respected team of researchers at the University of Leicester, who are looking in detail the chemicals contained in several foods, to find out whether they have potential to prevent cancer.
Professor Will Steward and his team are interested in several phytochemicals – natural chemicals found in fruit and veg. In particular, they’re interested in a family of phytochemicals called flavonoids, which are found in many plants, including cocoa (hence those “chocolate prevents cancer” stories).
Good sources of flavonoids include all citrus fruits, berries, onions, parsley, green tea, red wine, and dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 per cent or greater. But the amount of flavonoids found in these foods is relatively low, and it’s doubtful whether eating these foods has any effect on your cancer risk, however much chocolate you eat (sorry girls…). So Professor Will Steward’s carrying out experiments using purified phytochemicals.
His team is studying the effects of purified flavonoids on proteins in the body known as COX enzymes. These enzymes help to make molecules involved in inflammation – a process involved in certain types of cancer.
COX enzymes can also be targeted by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, which, as mentioned above, are currently being investigated by Cancer Research UK and other organisations for cancer prevention. But NSAIDs can cause side effects, especially with long-term use. Plant-derived COX-blockers might be a better alternative.
This research is still under way, but so far the Leicester team have published an interesting paper looking at whether three flavonoids – tricin (from rice bran), apigenin (from parsley and celery) and quercetin (found in apples and onions) – can affect COX enzymes.
Milk thistle and cancer prevention
The Leicester team are also investigating a molecule called silibinin, found in the milk thistle plant. They’re currently testing silibinin in mouse models of bowel and prostate cancer. Their latest results, published in April this year, suggest that silipide (a mixture of silibinin and chemicals called phospholipids) might hold promise for preventing these cancers, and could potentially go forward into clinical trials.
Roll out the resveratrol
Finally, Profesor Steward’s team are also looking at resveratrol, a chemical found in red grape skins – and red wine (as discussed by Ed) There’s some evidence from animal tests and experiments on cells grown in the lab that resveratrol may have anti-cancer and other health benefits, but little is known about its effects in humans.
Professor Steward and his team are finding out more about the dosage of resveratrol in foods, compared to the doses that might be useful for preventing cancer. Using people with bowel or prostate cancer, or healthy volunteers, the team will be testing a tiny dose of resveratrol (5 milligrams per day) that mimics food intake and a ‘pharmaceutical’ dose 200 times the size (1 gram per day).
The researchers will use special analytical techniques to discover how the chemical is metabolised by the body, and where it goes, at each dosage level. Again, this work’s still ongoing, but the team have published the results of an early-stage clinical trial looking at dosage and metabolism of resveratrol in human volunteers.
Studies such as these are a hot topic of research at the moment and both Professor Sasieni and Professor Steward are hoping their work will lead to new developments in this area. So although the bad news is that consuming red wine and chocolate will never be an effective cancer prevention strategy, they could lead to new preventative drugs in the future.
BUHLAIQAH MOHAMMEDRDA September 27, 2011
I BELIVE THERE IS A COSE FOR CANCERS NOT YET FINED , IT MAY RELATED TO THE CLORINATING OUR DRINKING WATER , OR USEING THE PLASTIC CONTENERS , OR THE SOPE WHICH WE WASH OUR DISHIES .
ANATHER QUSTION WY THE CANCERS TARGATING DEFERANT ORGANS IN OUR BODIES , AND DEFFER FROM QANTRY TO ATHERS .
ricky June 10, 2011
we need to move away from firefighting style of medicine to proper preventative care, having the tools and therapeutics to deal with all sorts of cancers. the investigative pick and shovels are available – thanks to science, engineering technology , now these need to be used to expedite the research that will lead to new therapeutics. this is the real measure of success, not the number of papers, but real effective therapeutics and understanding. the publishing of papers need to be seen as an intermediate step, unless they result in new therapeutics or major undersanding of disease,
ricky June 9, 2011
what i find most startling about this article is that this basic research hasnt been done and is still being talked about – should have been and dusted years ago so that patients dont have to rely on non-peer reviewed daily mail articles.
the war on cancer is a half hearted one, and i’m not talking about the dedicated scientists and doctors and research organisations such as cancer research uk , or pharma/ biotech involved, or the patients who have to suffer.
until this battle has full commitment and resources made available progress will continue to be piecemeal.
ersie courea December 16, 2010
I am on a high dose of turmeric for cancer and I feel a kinship with the Indian subcontinent.I will disagree with this site. We do not need more drugs if they just mimic nature in a laughable way and if there are the usual patented side effects. Rather, cancer research should be taken over by governments, not Big Pharma conspirators… And guys. haven’t you heard of the synergystic effects of phytonutrients? There are 17 anti-cancer nutrients in apple peel.
snehlata June 22, 2010
I had undergone breast conservative operation with mini LD Flap in 2005. I took 33 cycles of radiation therapy foolwed by 6 chemos. Apart from the medication I used to take lot of anti-oxidents in the form of food supplements like tab or liquids apart from routine simple diet( mostly boiled or steamed).I am veg. I got very good results from it. In India there are lot of companies grooming with varieties of food supplements, it has now becoming to decide which one is better. My doctor says no supplements,vitamins, only normal diet with Arimidex. However I am still continuing Indian Noni as an anti-oxident. Since I have been survived for more than 5 yrs.I wish to survive for more years. So what should I do? I am very confused now that is why everytime I go through the net trying to find our any news related on breast cancer survivor status. Your blog is very interesting as I can learn how to maintain my meal program with the suggestion given in the Blog. This is really impressive.
Debbie March 1, 2010
I came across this blog while searching ‘broccoli juice’, this is because my cousin’s friend is in remission from bladder cancer after drinking this juice. It’s not going to do any cancer sufferer harm to drink broccoli juice and yet Kat states “Reading the news, you might be led to think that a diet of red wine and jam is all you need. And just this week the media is hailing broccoli juice as the next ‘cure for bladder cancer’.” Why joke about red wine and jam? That obviously is not going to cure cancer! Science takes many years to discover specific chemicals derived from natural sources that work in the treatment of cancer. This would then be synthesized, manufactured and sold for a lot of money. In the meantime, in a very non scientific way, drink broccoli juice -it’s food the body requires to assist in its complex functions. Cancer Research doesn’t need to endorse broccoli, it’s a natural substance and is designed for our bodies. In the meantime Cancer Research can fund “a study to test whether a chemical found in broccoli can help to curb the development of cervical cancer” and get to the “scientific root of some of these so-called “superfoods”.” The fact that loads of money is spent on researching these so called “superfoods” and many people don’t have the time to wait for the results I would advocate these healthy foods.
greg November 12, 2009
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, by the way. I am not very fond of such rubbish. But I have to admit I am wary of the political power of drug companies.
And don’t get me wrong. I am all for evidence-based medicine, but I support healthy living too. I am upset over the kind of environment in which people are forced to live nowadays.
greg November 12, 2009
What do you suggest us do then? After the billions of dollars that have been channeled to research institutions and drug companies to find an effective medicine against cancer, we’re still waiting for the cure. Is it simply because our technology still can’t deal with this disease, or somehow cancer is such a big business it would be a shame for corporate entities get rid of it?
Sheesh, i agree with David above that it doesn’t take a genius to see the correlation between the kind of toxic and unnatural lifestyles and diets we have today with the increase in the rates of cancer.
I’d still choose to eat healthy even if “there is no scientific evidence that it can prevent cancer blah blah blah.”
Kat Arney November 12, 2009
As we’ve pointed out many times before on the blog, a healthy diet and lifestyle can definitely help to reduce the risk of cancer.
What we’re arguing in this post is that there is little evidence for specific powers of any one individual fruit or vegetable – though, as we point out there are likely to be clinically relevant benefits in purified extracts from some of them. As we’ve explained, media claims that eating one particular thing (be it broccoli, goji berries, pomegranates, chocolate or anything else) can prevent or treat cancer are likely to be over-inflated.
To help reduce the risk of cancer, we advise eating a diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight and keeping active, and (of course) not smoking. There’s more about this – and the evidence behind our messages – in our Healthy Living pages. Kat
Jo-Anne Harding November 4, 2009
My Father in Law just this Saturday passed away with Lung Cancer. Just before this happened we discovered some literature on Blue Green Algae and the benefits/possible cure for cancer. Does anyone know anything about this?
Kat Arney November 6, 2009
We’re very sorry to hear about your father in law.
Some researchers have been looking into the anti-cancer properties of purified chemicals from algae (for example http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/02/12/35177.aspx) but there is no evidence to suggest that taking whole algae as a supplement can treat or prevent cancer – here’s a helpful page about it from the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Centre in the US: http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69145.cfm.
Daniel May 14, 2009
“High Oxygen Intake, High ORAC Antioxidant Consumption. The ACAI (AH SIGH EE) berry has been discovered to be one of if not THE highest source of antioxidants ever found. The placement of a patient in a Hyperbaric Chamber or highly Oxygenated location, eg Rain Forrest, high humidity + the continued high consumption of high ORAC Antioxidants to illiminate the Cancer completely and effectively, with no Free Radicals left to take its place. In simple consumption of high ORAC Antioxidants I have been informed of a specific case in which the patient was literally told she had three weeks to live… began the high consentrated consumption of an antioxidant juice and is now, as far as I am aware, 6 months in remission. may I mention also that this particular case was reported in the Northern Territory (high Humidity 95-98%)… what does that say about antioxidants and high levels of Oxygen. Scientists have still not convincingly proved nor disproved the use of Antioxidants in the prevention and in some real cases, the cure of Cancer. the idea of oxygen being utilised to assist in the irradication of the Cancer… I know i am not a Scientist and have much to learn.. i would humbled by your scientific proven research if you have any or can find some one who has. i will search the globe looking for results as to the cure and would love some help if it is at all possible.
Kat Arney May 14, 2009
We’ve covered the role of antioxidants and vitamins in some detail here on the blog. There’s certainly no solid scientific evidence to show that antioxidants can ‘cure’ cancer. You might find the following posts and articles interesting:
Mike Whittaker September 25, 2008
MAKERS -> MARKERS updated … yay !
David September 16, 2008
“consuming red wine and chocolate will never be an effective cancer prevention strategy, they could lead to new preventative drugs in the future”….
…worrying, very worrying.,. that the drug companies might latch onto yet another huge money-making opportunity, when they don’t appear to be very successful, so far, at producing preventative drugs of any description!
Surely we should use a little logic and rational thinking, to realise that our rates of cancer and many other health issues, have risen since our toxic chemical use, unnatural dietry habits, emotional problems and sedentary lifestyles have become as current?
Kat August 5, 2008
Well spotted Mike!
Mike Whittaker August 5, 2008
At the website linked here: “Again, this work’s still ongoing, but the team have published the results of an early-stage clinical trial looking at dosage and metabolism of resveratrol in human volunteers.” – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17548692
… shouldn’t it read “Cancer BioMARKERS and Prevention Group” rather than “Cancer BioMAKERS and Prevention Group” ? Unless they want to _cause_ cancer …
Just asking !
Kat July 24, 2008
Thanks for the comments – it’s good to hear you’re enjoying the blog.
Don Cox July 23, 2008
I just discovered this blog. Excellent stuff, just what we need to keep us up to date. Keep going.
Ann July 22, 2008
At a previous job, in a fairly well-known health organisation, I had to beg my boss not to offer the Daily Mail in the reception area, as it made us look a bit down-market. His reasoning ? “Oh, but the Daily Mail has so many good health stories”.
He’d been a health professional for about 30 years at that point…