Plants, plant bioactives and cancer

Epidemiological studies indicate that plant food exert protective effects against many cancers. Epidemiology however only provides evidence of association. Obtaining support for causal relationships between consumption of plant foods and cancer and identifying which types of foods and phytochemicals might be important are very difficult tasks. Our approach employs a combination of in vitro model systems and human dietary intervention studies using biomarkers of cancer risk.

We have used human cell culture systems that model the process of carcinogenesis from initiation, through tumour promotion, to invasion, to investigate chemopreventitive effects of plant foods and their components in particular cruciferous vegetables such as watercress and rocket. Such systems also allow us to investigate the bioactive components of the plants such asisothiocyanates and flavonoids.These in vitro studies have been followed up by intervention studies in healthy human volunteers, which have demonstrated that consumption of certain cruciferous and leguminous plants results in a reduction in DNA damage in lymphocytes and an increase in ability of the lymphocytes to resist challenge by DNA damaging agents. Since DNA damage is a critical step in the development of cancer, such data indicate that a reduction in cancer risk is possible.

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