Plant Compounds that Fight Cancer

By Susan Littlefield

We all know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for our health. But research being conducted at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California is providing intriguing new clues about the ways compounds in these foods help to ward off cancer and other diseases.

For example, a study done by molecular biologist Susan Zunino demonstrated that three compounds occurring naturally in strawberries cause death or damage to certain kinds of leukemia cells grown in culture. Scientists now know that unwanted inflammation can contribute to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases. Research done by Daniel Hwang and his colleagues has increased understanding of the ways in which compounds found in plants such as celery, thyme, green peppers, citrus fruits and the fruit of the blue passion-flower work to inhibit the expression of genes that otherwise might cause the production of products that trigger inflammation. The compound luteolin, found in vegetables such as celery and green peppers, was determined to be the most effective inhibitor of an enzyme that, if unimpeded, leads to inflammation.

Continuing research will provide more insights into how these plant compounds help to protect us from disease. But current findings bolster the reasons we all should be trying to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in our diet. And what better way to do that than by growing your own?

To read more about this research in the July 2010 issue of Agricultural Research, go to: Agricultural Research.

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