Brassica Glucosinolates and Their Derivatives

Glucosinolates (previously known as thioglucosides) are sulfur-containing phytochemicals found in cruciferous or brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Although approximately 100 different glucosinolates are found in the plant kingdom, only approximately 10 are found in brassica vegetables. They are also found in other plant foods. Degradation products of glucosinolates include other organosulfur compounds, such as the isothiocyanates and dithiothiols. Glucosi-nolate degradation products also include indoles.

Epidemiological data suggest that the relatively high content of glucosinolates and related compounds may be responsible for the observed protective effects of brassica vegetables in the majority of the 87 case-control studies and 7 cohort studies that have been carried out on the association between brassica consumption and cancer risk (Tables 3-5). In the case-control studies, 67% of studies showed an inverse association between consumption of brassica vegetables and risk of cancer at various sites. If individual brassica vegetables are considered, then the values for the number of studies that showed an inverse association between consumption of brassica vegetables and risk of cancer at various sites are as follows: broccoli, 56%; Brussels sprouts, 29%; cabbage, 70%; and cauliflower, 67%. The cohort studies showed inverse associations between broccoli consumption and the risk of all types of cancer taken together; between the consumption of brassicas and risk of stomach cancer and the occurrence of second primary cancers; and between the consumption of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli and the risk of lung cancer. Overall, it appears that a high consumption of brassica vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. The associations were most consistent for stomach, lung, rectal, and colon cancer. The epidemiological literature also provides some support for the hypothesis that high intakes of bras-sica vegetables can reduce risk of prostate cancer. Further epidemiological research is required to separate the cancer protective effects of brassica vegetables from those of vegetables in general.

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