Cauliflower and Cancer Prevention
I am generally not a great advocate of the “superfood” craze: the thought that there is one magical food out there just waiting to be discovered that will cure all our ills is just plain silly. We are multidimensional beings and the more we achieve balance on all planes: mental, emotional, and physical, including a balanced diet full of a variety of healthy (but not necessarily fancy) foods the better our health will be.
That said, there has been some interesting research done in the past few years about cauliflower and the other vegetables in the crucifer family and their potential role in cancer prevention. These vegetables all contain a family of compounds called glucosinolates. These are sulfur-containing compounds that when broken down in the body seem to induce cancer-preventing enzymes to function in the digestive tract and liver. These enzymes help the body break down and excrete chemicals that can cause cancer in the body before they cause damage to cells that can lead to cancer.
This chemoprotective effect from increased metabolism and excretion has been seen for a number of different carcinogenic compounds. Some of these include: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a family of compounds that are released from the burning of fossil fuels and coal. Nitrosamines, which can be found in high amounts in tobacco, nitrate-preserved foods, latex, and many cosmetics and pesticides, and heterocyclic amines, which are found in well-done or burned meat. All of these chemicals can cause damage when they come into contact with the cells of the body; glucosinolates from these vegetables help the body get rid of them before that damage can occur.
Overall, the cancer-preventing effects of crucifers has been shown to be most pronounced in a few types of cancer. Primarily, those are lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancers. This makes sense given that the route of entry into the body for most of the above mentioned substances are either by inhalation into the lungs or ingestion into the digestive tract.
Obviously, the most sensible way to avoid the damaging effects of these substances is to minimize your exposure to them. However, for most of us we are going to come into contact with some amount of these chemicals in the course of our lives. It is important to remember that our bodies are resilient and are equipped with the tools to process and eliminate toxins; cauliflower and other crucifers can help to boost the effectiveness of these tools.