The researchers found that the process of fermenting cabbage produces isothiocyanates, a class of compounds that have been identified in previous studies as potential cancer-fighting agents. In animal studies, the compounds appear to prevent the growth of cancer, particularly in the breast, colon, lung and liver, they say. No one knows yet whether the compounds, which are not found in raw cabbage, have a similar effect in humans. Further studies are needed, they add.
"We are finding that fermented cabbage could be healthier than raw or cooked cabbage, especially for fighting cancer," says Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, Ph.D., research manager of MTT Agrifood Research Finland, located in Jokioinen, Finland. "We are now working on ways of optimizing the fermentation process to make it even healthier so that consumers will eat more [sauerkraut]."
In the current study, the researchers analyzed a variety of biologically active compounds in sauerkraut. Their samples were derived from white cabbage that was fermented.
Although raw cabbage is normally rich in a compound called glucosinolate, the researchers found that during the fermentation process enzymes are released that completely decompose the compound into several breakdown products. The majority of these products are cancer-fighting isothiocyanates.
Evidence for sauerkraut's anticancer effect is growing. Previous epidemiological studies have
reported that Polish women who move to the United States have a higher incidence of breast cancer than those who remain in Poland, a statistic
Contact: Beverly Hassell
American Chemical Society