A new study gives credence to the idea that broccoli could protect against cancer.
Researchers have linked a compound found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale to an important tumour-suppressor gene.
'We found a new important player that drives a pathway critical to the development of cancer, an enzyme that can be inhibited with a natural compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables,' said Dr Pier Paolo Pandolfi at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
'This pathway emerges not only as a regulator for tumour growth control, but also as an Achilles' heel we can target with therapeutic options.'
The team investigated possible compounds that regulated a known tumour-suppressor gene called PTEN, in cancer-prone mice and human cell lines.
They found that a gene called WWP1 inhibited PTEN's role in suppressing cancer. And they discovered that, in turn, a molecule called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) could inhibit WWP1 and so possibly halt its cancer-promoting activity. I3C is derived from cruciferous vegetables, which also include cauliflower and cabbage.
When the team tested I3C in mice, they found it stopped WWP1 and reactivated PTEN's cancer suppressing ability. The study was published in Science.
The idea that broccoli may have cancer-fighting properties has long been of interest. 'I've been bombarded by journalists – because of the broccoli connection, let's be honest,' Dr Pandolfi told the Harvard Gazette.
'Forget what you think about the science, the fact that [we found] something that your grandma would say [is] good for you, it's appealing.'
However, eating your greens in order to prevent cancer may be unrealistic. First author Dr Yu-Ru Lee, who works in the Pandolfi lab, said a person would have to eat nearly six pounds of uncooked Brussels sprouts a day to gain their potential anti-cancer benefit.