Category Archives: cancer

Homemade Sauerkraut: Improve Digestion, Prevent Cancer

There is a farm at my children’s school, and every Thursday afternoon they host a farm stand where parents and students can buy fresh veggies, goat milk products, and homemade goodies. A few weeks ago, I stopped by the stand and encountered some truly amazing produce–a head of cabbage so giant I thought I was back in Alaska. I passed on buying it, not knowing what I’d actually do with the beast, but I went home and thought about it all night, came up with a plan, and the next day headed back to the farm to see if there were more. The farmer generously took me out to the field and found me this beauty. I brought this leafy 15-pounder home and started shredding.IMG_1105

Making Sauerkraut:
It turns out making sauerkraut is a relatively simple process: it requires cabbage, salt, and a good vessel for storage. I bought a large crock for making vinegar a few years ago so I decided to use this. I would recommend using something nonreactive and not plastic, so crockery or glass are good options. According to Alton Brown, my go-to resource for all cooking projects that seem a bit more like chemistry, for every 5lbs of cabbage, use 3Tbsp pickling salt (I used kosher salt and doubled the amount). He also uses 1 Tbsp of juniper berries and 2 tsp caraway, but that is optional. After shredding and mixing the cabbage with salt, pack it firmly into your sanitized fermentation vessel of choice. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then lay a quart-sized glass jar full of water over the plate (sanitize these too).
IMG_1114
After a couple days, a liquid brine should form to cover the top of the cabbage, if not, add enough water to cover the cabbage. Check it every couple of days and skim the scum off the top if necessary. The sauerkraut should be ready in 10 days to 4 weeks-just take a bit out and taste it! When it is finished, pack it into sanitized quart jars and cover with brine (the spigot at the bottom of my vinegar crock was handy for this). It should keep in the refrigerator for a few months.IMG_1177

Why Sauerkraut?

In addition to being a good source of Vitamin C, B6, and iron, there are two primary health benefits to eating sauerkraut: improved digestion and cancer prevention. The digestive benefits are twofold: there are many strains of probiotic bacteria (including lactobacillus) that work together to eat the sugars in the cabbage and produce this fermented food. Eating raw sauerkraut will help to repopulate the large intestine with beneficial bacteria, which can improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and increase the strength of the immune system overall. Green cabbage is also a good source of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is the preferred food for the lining of the digestive tract. This can also help to repair damaged cells and improve the integrity of the large intestine. One word of caution; the process of fermentation can create a trisaccharide that, when consumed by the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, can cause gas for some people. The addition of caraway and juniper (as advised by Alton Brown’s recipe) can help to dispel that gas and maximize the digestive benefit of the sauerkraut.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is the primary chemical present in sauerkraut that has been associated with cancer prevention. I3C can be found in all members of the cabbage (brassica) family, but particularly high levels have been found in cabbage that has been fermented for 7-9 days. After this length of time, I3C levels continue to remain elevated but will taper off over time. I3C has been shown to reduce proliferation (growth) of several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, breast, and leukemia. I3C has been discussed particularly in reference to prevention of breast and cervical cancers because it helps to metabolize and remove estrogens from the system. These types of cancer are frequently (though not always) dependent upon estrogen as a growth promoter. However, I3C also can help to initiate natural cell death (called apoptosis) and protect the liver against cancer-causing chemicals which is why benefit has been found for non-estrogen dependent cancers as well.

Making sauerkraut is a little adventure that yields a delicious, health promoting, and cost-saving product with flavor unrivaled by the canned store-bought types. You can purchase raw sauerkraut at many health food stores, but the cost can be upwards of $20/quart. Making it at home requires only the cost of the cabbage–mine cost about $1.30/quart, plus the glory of figuring out what to do with a cabbage the size of my torso.

Enjoy and be well!

Tomatoes, Lycopene and Prostate Cancer

TomatoI had the opportunity to write an article for this month’s issue of the Natural Medicine Journal about the connection between Lycopene and prevention of Prostate cancer. This is following results of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute earlier this year. The HPFS is an ongoing study of over 50,000 men who were between the ages of 40 and 75 at the beginning of the study in 1986. After nearly 30 years of following the dietary habits and health status of these men, they have found a distinct protective effect of consumption of foods that are high in lycopene.

Lycopene is a carotenoid, a class of compounds that often give plants a yellow, orange, or red color. The foods that are most common in the Western diet that are highest in lycopene are tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. Processed tomato foods such as tomato paste and sauce are particularly high in lycopene because it becomes concentrated. Lycopene has the most potent antioxidant activity of all the carotenoids, and there have been many studies over the past several decades that have demonstrated the ability of lycopene to detoxify, prevent cell damage, and initiate death of cancer cells.

This current study is of particular interest to us because, from a prevention standpoint, it looks at whole foods instead of supplements, and it gives us a long-term look at a large number human subjects rather than animal or in-vitro models. The most significant finding in this study is that “men with the highest (cumulative) intake were half as likely to develop lethal prostate cancer compared with those with the lowest intake”. That is, the men who started eating foods with the highest amount of lycopene earliest in life were least likely to die of prostate cancer.

It is also important to note that these men who fared the best in the study seemed to have better habits overall. Those with the highest lycopene consumption “also consumed less alcohol, coffee and all three types of fats and slightly more fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber”. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have also been generally found to be protective against cancers and prostate cancer specifically.

What is the take home message from this study? The best way to take care of your prostate is to eat fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in lycopene, and start early–the impact you will have will be so much more powerful now than making changes once a problem arises.

If you would like to see the full article in the Natural Medicine Journal Click Here

Source: Zu, Ke et al. Dietary Lycopene, Angiogenesis, and Prostate Cancer: A Prospective Study in the Prostate-Specific Antigen Era. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2014. 106 (2).