Isothiocyanates are plant compounds that are produced from other plant chemicals known as glucosinolates. The results of numerous research studies have reported that plant isothiocyanates can reduce cancer cell growth, induce cancer cell death, and modulate enzymes involved in cancer development. The presence of isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale, are what make these vegetables such important cancer-fighting foods. Another source of isothiocyanates is the vegetable watercress; however, not as much is known about the breast cancer protective benefits of watercress.
In a recent study, investigators explored the breast cancer protective effects of watercress and phenethyl isothiocyanate in cell cultures and human study volunteers . For the pilot clinical study, breast cancer survivors consumed 80 grams of watercress and had blood samples collected to measure changes in phenethyl isothiocyanate and 4E-BP1 (a protein involved in the activation of hypoxia-inducible factor [HIF]) levels. The breast cancer researchers reported that a crude extract of watercress inhibited breast cancer cell growth and reduced the activity of HIF, an important stimulator of tumor blood vessel growth. Analysis of blood samples from breast cancer survivors showed that eating watercress resulted in a substantial increase in blood levels of phenethyl isothiocyanate and a significant decrease in 4E-BP1, the protein important in the activation of HIF, within 6 hours of watercress consumption.
The pathway whereby 4E-BP1 activates HIF, which in turn stimulates blood vessel growth in cancer tumors, including breast cancer tumors, is a potentially important pathway for breast cancer development and growth. Breast cancer therapies or dietary interventions that can block this pathway might have an important role in breast cancer protection. This new breast cancer research study suggests that dietary consumption of watercress, a cruciferous vegetable rich in phenethyl isothiocyanate, might fight breast cancer by inhibiting this breast cancer pathway.
Berries Might Help Battle Breast Cancer
Berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc) are rich in a variety of antioxidant phytochemicals. It is these antioxidants phytochemicals that have been linked to some of the health benefits attributed to consuming berries. One of the most abundant antioxidant phytochemicals found in many berries is ellagic acid, which has been reported to have possible heart health and cancer fighting benefits. However, the mechanisms by which berries and their phytochemicals might protect against breast cancer are not completely understood.
A new breast cancer research study published in Cancer Prevention Research examined the impact of dietary berries and ellagic acid on breast cancer burden in rats . For this study, breast cancer was induced in rats by treating them with estrogen. The rats were then fed one of four diets for up to 24 weeks: (1) a control diet, (2) a diet containing 2.5% black raspberry, (3) a diet containing 2.5% blueberry, and (4) a diet containing 400 ppm ellagic acid. Development of breast cancer and changes in metabolic enzymes were examined after 6, 18, and 24 weeks. The results of this analysis showed that
Diets that included berries or ellagic acid reduced breast cancer tumor incidence by 10-30%
Breast cancer tumor size was reduced by 41-67% in rats fed diets containing black raspberries, blueberries, and ellagic acid.
The number of breast cancer tumors was reduced by about 40-50% in rats fed diets enriched with berries and ellagic acid.
These are interesting study results that confirm previous pre-clinical studies on the potential breast cancer fighting benefits of berry phytochemicals. This current study also provides new information on the way berry phytochemicals might protect against breast cancer. Ellagic acid and other berry phytochemicals have been reported to have cancer fighting benefits due to their anti-oxidant function and their ability to inhibit cell growth. These early studies show promise and give us an additional reason to include plenty of fruits in our daily diet. Most berries are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and other essential micronutrients, making them an excellent and delicious part of a healthy diet.
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Syed Alwi SS, Cavell BE, Telang U, Morris ME, Parry BM, Packhama G. In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study. British Journal of Nutrition 2010; 104:1288-1296.
Aiyer HS, Gupta RC. Berries and ellagic acid prevent estrogen-induced mammary tumorigenesis by modulating enzymes of estrogen metabolism. Cancer Prev Res 2010; 3:727-737.