Cruciferous vegetables found to protect against colon cancer in mice

The new study offers evidence of how a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol in the diet can prevent colon inflammation and cancer by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Image credit Jose Antonio Alba

The new study offers evidence of how a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol in the diet can prevent colon inflammation and cancer by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Image credit Jose Antonio Alba

Leafy green vegetables, or brassicas, have been associated with good health for many years - but the role of chemicals found in them has been little understood.

"Seeing the profound effect of diet on gut inflammation and colon cancer was very striking", says senior author Dr Gitta Stockinger, Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute.

Researchers from the Francis Crick Institute showed that mice fed on a diet rich in indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a chemical produced when people digest vegetables from the Brassica genus, were protected from gut inflammation and then colon cancer. Mice with cancer already developing switched to indole-3-carbinol rich diets were observed to develop significantly fewer tumours that were more benign.

To such conclusion scientists of the Institute Francis Crick in great Britain.

Mice and mouse gut organoids created from stem cells were studied with results showing aryl hydrocarbon receptor proteins is critical to repairing damaged epithelial cells without which intestinal stem cells fail to differentiate into specialised epithelial cell to absorb nutrients and generate protective mucus, and instead will divide uncontrollable leading to colon cancer.

Metidji et al show that deletion of Ahr in intestinal epithelial cells results in a defective barrier and unrestricted proliferation of intestinal stem cells, culminating in malignant transformation. Activation of AHR by dietary ligands guards the

According to the researchers these studies suggest that fibre within vegetables are not the only things to help reduce risk of bowel cancer, other molecules also contribute to risk reduction adding to the evidence supporting a healthy diet rich in vegetable is important to a healthy lifestyle, and additional studies will help to determine whether molecules in vegetables will have the same effect in humans.

These findings are a cause for optimism - while we can't change the genetic factors that increase our risk of cancer, we can probably mitigate these by adopting an appropriate diet with plenty of vegetables.' To follow up on the findings, the team are now hoping to conduct further experiments in organoids - simplified organs made from human gut biopsies - and eventually human trials. Normal mice fed standard or indole-3-carbinol enriched diets didn't develop tumors, those fed a purified controlled diet did.

'Further studies will help find out whether the molecules in these vegetables have the same effect in people'.

About 17 % of humans die from cancer, but less than five per cent of captive elephants - who have 100 times as many potentially cancerous cells - die from it. It has been discovered that vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage can help in reducing the risk of bowel cancer.

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