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Did you know that an estimated 1,529,560 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2010? That’s 4,190 new cases per day!
Unfortunately, we have become acutely aware that there are many things in our world that are carcinogenic and inevitably will find more things in the future. Mutagens come from a variety of places including tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants. Popular herbicides contain glyphosphate, a compound that depresses the function of important enzymes that are essential for detoxification. The number one cancer causing mutagen, however, is our diet. For example, the frying, baking, and roasting of carbohydrate rich foods produces acrylamide, which is a known cancer causing agent in animals.
Everyday we are surrounded by these mutagens that have the potential to cause a genetic mutation within our own cells resulting in a mistake in our genetic code. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Cancer results from the accumulation of mutations in the genes that regulate cellular proliferation.” As these mutations begin to accumulate the cells can no longer regulate their own production and begin to grow out of control. They no longer demonstrate the innate ability of apoptosis. Apoptosis is defined as programmed cellular death. Healthy cells that develop abnormalities are programmed to destroy themselves when mistakes are made. Cancer cells, because of excessive mutations, lose this ability and continue to reproduce despite the fact they are causing damage.
The human body has a very unique and effective way of dealing with chemicals that it may come into contact with. This detoxification system has two phases within which it works. They are aptly named Phase I and Phase II. This system is able to detoxify even the most potent of chemicals, including pesticides and other foreign compounds found in the environment. Although these systems are very complex, we will go over them briefly and broadly.
The molecules produced in Phase I may be even more toxic than the initial chemicals because the molecular groups that are added to them by the body’s detoxification system are very reactive. This allows these molecules to act as free radicals in the liver. This is not problematic as long as Phase II is working well. The Phase I molecules are usually quickly converted to harmless molecules for excretion in the urine or bile by Phase II.
At this point you may be asking, “Why do I need to worry about it if Phase II acts so quickly?” For one, the process is slowed with age and some people metabolize slowly while others metabolize much faster. This shows the need for nutritional supplementation which maximizes the efforts of Phase I and II and reinforces the idea that we should provide the liver with ample amounts of antioxidants.
So the question remains. What can you do to help protect yourself from dangerous mutations that may lead to cancer in the future? Many nutrients have been found to be essential cofactors for the detoxification system, but three have recently been found to directly enhance its activity.
The first is curcumin. It is a nutrient that is derived from turmeric. Turmeric has been used for centuries throughout India and Asia for a myriad of different maladies ranging from upset stomach to arthritis. It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol and inhibit LDL oxidation.
In a study at India’s Panjab University, researchers found that curcumin inhibited mutagenicity by as much as 80% against mutagens in cooked foods. Curcumin has also been shown not only to be preventative but also helps reduce the progression of cancer. Curcumin appears to act by boosting the activity of glutathione S-transferase which is an important Phase II enzyme.
Curcumin has also been shown to be a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are important because they scavenge free radicals throughout the system. Free radicals act on the body on a cellular level producing damage in whatever they come in contact with.
Another potent inhibitor of mutagenicity is chlorophyllin. This is derived from the green pigment in plants called chlorophyll. Chlorophyllin is beneficial because it is water soluble and is easily transported in the blood. It has been shown to inhibit mutations in bacteria when placed in a Petri dish with known mutagens.
Although its precise mechanism of action is unknown, it is thought to act as a powerful antioxidant as well. In one study, chlorophyllin was shown to promote apoptosis in human colon cancer cells. This is important because it is thought that the alteration of the process of apoptosis is one mechanism by which cancer continues to reproduce. Chlorophyllin is has also been shown to be heat stable which is important because it will maintain its powerful properties after ingested.
The third powerful nutrient is broccoli extract. That’s right. Mom knew more than she thought when she was force feeding you broccoli and cod liver oil! According to an article in Life Extension magazine, “Broccoli is a plentiful source of glucosinolates, which are converted enzymatically into isothiocyanates. In the body, the isothiocyanates in broccoli boost production of several Phase II detoxification enzymes, enhance antioxidant status, and protect animals against chemically induced cancer.”
A study at Johns Hopkins University showed that broccoli extract significantly reduced incidence, multiplicity, and weight of mammary tumors in rats after exposure to known mutagens. Its activity is thought to work by enhancing enzymatic activity in Phase II of the detoxification system.
Cancer levels continue to be very high in the United States. With the never ending influx of new chemicals into our world it is important to protect ourselves with nutrients that have been proven to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer. Curcumin, chlorophyllin and broccoli extract have been shown to be very effective. Traditional medicine promotes early detection as a crucial weapon in defeating cancer. Early detection is of course important, but it is not prevention. We propose that all of our patients take an active role in their health and prevent serious illness through good nutrition.