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It takes two to fight cancer


New research at the Institute of Food Research shows that two food components recognised for their ability to fight cancer are up to 13 times more powerful when put to work together. The results are published in the latest issue of international journal Carcinogenesis.

The study focuses on genes that play an important role in tumour formation, tumour progression, and the spread of tumour cells. The food components sulforaphane and selenium were found to have an increased impact on these genes when used as a combined treatment.

“As a result of this research, we hope to begin a human cancer prevention trial next year. It opens up new possibilities for functional foods, food supplements or simply new guidelines for healthy eating”, says Dr Yongping Bao, senior researcher at the IFR.

Sulforaphane is found at high concentrations in broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, watercress and salad rocket. Selenium-rich foods include nuts, poultry, fish, eggs, sunflower seeds and mushrooms.

The plant chemical sulforaphane is recognised not only for its powerful role in cancer prevention, but also as a potentially useful curative cancer drug.

Selenium is an essential mineral and its deficiency is associated with the incidence of many types of cancers, including prostate cancer. The UK dietary intake has halved over the last 20 years and British bread-making wheat contains 10 to 50 times less selenium than that in the US and Canada.

“High concentrations in the diet are normally required to protect against cancer, but when these compounds act synergistically lower doses are needed to prevent cancer formation. This is particularly good news as selenium and sulforaphane can be toxic at high levels”, says Dr Bao.

The research demonstrates the complex interactions between food components and the limitations to studying them in isolation. “IFR is committed to a whole food approach, reflecting the way that nutrient and non-nutrient components are eaten in every day life”, says Director of IFR, Professor Alastair Robertson.

Zoe Dunford | alfa
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