Phytochemicals have an important function to prevent some cancers and heart disease .
One of them are called Indoles. You find them in crusiferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and mustard greens. They have a bitter taste that bugs don’t like.
The phytochemical responsible for this way of plant protection is called Indole-3-
carbinol, known by researchers by the nickname I3C.
In humans, this compound plays a role in regulating hormones, which may be useful
in preventing breast cancer.
Researchers at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York City found that when
women took 400 milligrams of I3C a day, about the amount found in half a head of
cabbage, their levels of the harmless estrogen increased significantly.
In fact, they had the same levels as those found in marathon runners, which is quite a
feat, since vigorous exercise has been shown to have a strong positive effect on
estrogen levels. I3C also helps stop tumor cells from spreading to other parts of the body,
Studies also show that I3C may slow the growth and reproduction of prostate-cancer cells.
That’s why you should say yes to broccoli and cabbage.
Other phytochemicals are organosulfur compounds, called allylic sulfides.
They are one of nature’s most potent compounds to decrease your risks of cancer and heart disease. They also raise good HDL cholesterol and stimulate enzymes that suppress tumors.
You will find them in onions, garlic, also but in lower concentration in leeks and chives.
Allylic sulfides also have the unique potency to keep cholesterol and other blood fats known as triglycerides from causing health-threatening blood clots and hardening of the arteries.
Allicin, which researchers believe to be the most potent compount in garlic, and diallyl
disulphyde also made blood vessels relax, reducing blood pressure and improving bloodflow.
Allicin also has potent germ killing powers. Studies show that it can kill microbes responsible for colds, the flu, tummy viruses, yeast infections, and possibly even tuberculosis.
Other studies have shown that taking two or more servings of garlic per week can help
protect against colon cancer. It can also stop the growth of cancer cells, once they develop.
This is another phytochemical, also called polyphenols.You will find them in most fruits,
vegetables, cereal grains, and green and black teas. These compounds fight cancer on two
fronts. They stimulate protective enzymes while squelching harmful ones, and they’re also
Most active polyphenols include ellagic acid from strawberries, green tea polyphenols,
and curcumin, the yellow collering in turmeric.
Curcumin plays a role in cancer prevention because it act as an antioxidant.
It also seems to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent or help to treat Alzheimer’s
disease and arthritis.
One of the most common phytochemicals are the saponins. You will find them in a wide
variety of vegetables, herbs and legumes, like spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, nuts, and oats.
Soy beans alone contain 12 different types of saponins.
Studies show that people who eat saponin-rich diets have consistently lower rates of breast- prostate- and colon cancer,
Unlike other cancer-fighting phytochemicals, however, saponins possess a unique array
of weapons. One way that they help prevent cancer is by binding with bile acids, which
over time may metabolize into cancer-causing compounds, and eliminating them from the
body, says Dr Rao, professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto.
They also stimulate the immune system so that’s better able to detect and destroy precancerous cells before they develop into full-blown cancer.
But perhaps the most important ability of saponins is to target the cholesterol found in cancer cell membranes. Cancer cells have a lot of cholesterol in their membranes, and saponins selectively binds to these cells and destroy them.
Not surprisingly , this ability to bind to cholesterol is helpful for lowering total cholesterol
as well. Saponins bind with bile acids, used for digestion in the intestinal tract.
The bile is then excreted, instead of being reabsorbed. Since bile acids are made of cholesterol, getting rid of some of these acids means that your body has to use up cholesterol to make more, effectively lowering cholesterol levels in the process.
See also my article titled: Phytonutrients, compounds from the garden for good health.