Antioxidants have become so popular that it’s one of the new buzzwords today. Take careful note of food labels in grocery stores because colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with them, even cosmetics – skin care, hair care are now on the bandwagon singing its praises. Hallelujah!
In an article From the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) the grant review panelist; Dr. A. N. Tony Kong talks about his most recent findings. He wanted to know how antioxidants in plant foods affect genes that turn the cancer process on and off. He said, “It’s a balancing act. A little inflammation reaction in a healthy immune system is a good thing, but too much is harmful. Too much oxidative stress and too few antioxidant vitamins like C, D and E, along with not consuming enough phytochemicals – like sulforaphane in broccoli, EGCG in green tea and dozens more in all kinds of plant foods, leads to ill health.”
How does this happen? It has to do with the way our immune system responds to infections by fighting the virus or bacteria that is causing them. The site that is inflamed is where the battle is fought. The longer the inflammation persists, the likelihood of increased risk for certain cancers. Some cancers cited are liver cancer and the risk increases, due to having hepatitis or H. pylori, the bacteria that is responsible for stomach ulcers or in extreme cases, stomach cancer. Inflammatory bowel disease can increase the risk for colon cancer also.
Versatility of Antioxidants
Apparently antioxidants have dual roles, they coordinate and give protection that is a two-step action. Here is how Dr Kong described the process:
1) Antioxidants directly mop up free radical molecules
2) Antioxidants turn on signals that tell tumor-suppressing genes to become active
Again, Dr. Kong stated, “Often where oxidative stress occurs, inflammation also occurs. Free radicals may also activate inflammation cascades. Antioxidants may not only reduce cell oxidative stress – they may also activate cellular defense systems by putting protective enzymes to work. Together they get rid of free radicals and also block the cell signaling that tells tumor cells to grow.”
How was the theory tested? In Dr. Kong’s lab, a protein called “Nrf2” was omitted from one group of mice. The second group had the Nrf2 protein. They compared both groups feeding them sulforaphane, the phytochemical found in broccoli and cabbage. Their findings showed that sulforaphane plays an important role in enabling Nrf2 to inform antioxidants proteins to fight cytokines and other kinds of inflammatory proteins. This goes to show that eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are vital to our wellbeing. Sulforaphane is just one of hundreds of antioxidant phytochemicals that are plant based and can protect us from inflammation and oxidative stress.
It is believed that phytochemical antioxidants in our diets work well to protect our cells from low-level inflammation and oxidative stress that we have every day. When there is damage or injury to cells that could create a cancer-driving mutation, antioxidants might be used to reactivate genes that protect against cancer.
Dr. Kong is moving along looking into pathways of gene activity that are located just outside of the DNA-coding region. He said that phytochemicals are effective at the chromosome level. In his research with lab rats with prostate cancer, he noted as the tumors grow it’s possible that the tumors escape protective gene signals. Concurrently, the harmful gene signals that cause tumors to grow are activated. With those kind of processes, Dr Kong and his partners are trying to deactivate them using antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals.
There are strong bodies of evidence showing us the importance of how we can be proactive in simply eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans (which are plant based), nature’s bounties to improve our lives and be the best that we can be. Make it happen. Take baby steps and add one new fruit, vegetable, whole grain and beans to your meals each day of the week. The more colorful your plate looks with the foods mentioned, is testament that you are eating antioxidants to support protection. You’ll reap big rewards to become “healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Hope Anderson RDN, LDN
Healthy Lifestyle Coach