MADISON -- Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report in the current issue of the Journal of Nutrition that small concentrations of two compounds from plants we eat suppress the growth of three kinds of human cancer cells in the laboratory.
"Our studies showed that cancer cells were more sensitive to these compounds than normal cells and that the two compounds had a stronger effect when combined than we would have expected from the action of either alone," says Charles Elson, a nutritional scientist in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. "Our findings strengthen the idea that a diet rich in plants is beneficial because of the large array of plant compounds rather than the singular action of one kind of plant or one compound in plants."
Elson suggests that the anticarcinogenic activity of these and similar plant compounds differs from the mechanism of other agents that block or suppress cancer cell growth. Unless controlled, cancer cells typically live and divide indefinitely.
"The two compounds we studied suppress an enzyme," Elson says. "We think that this deprives tumor cells of chemical intermediates they need to multiply. The two compounds even work on human tumor cell lines that have mutations known to promote cancer."
Studies consistently have shown that people who eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains have a reduced risk of many types of cancer, including lung, alimentary tract, liver, pancreas, bladder, kidney, breast, endometrium, cervix and prostate.
What is it about these foods that limits cancer? In a quest reminiscent of the search for vitamins begun in the last century, scientists are trying to identify the beneficial compounds in the fruits, vegetables and grains we eat that control tumor growth.
Plants contain many beneficial compounds including fiber and micronutrients such
as vitamins and their precursors. According to Elson, research initially focused
on compounds such as vitamin A,
Contact: Charles Elson
University of Wisconsin-Madison