It might not be the most Instagrammable of vegetables but the humble cabbage is packed full of anti-cancer chemicals, according to scientists at the Francis Crick Institute.
The researchers found cabbage, a cruciferous vegetable, is good for gut health as well as other vegetables including kale and broccoli and can reduce the risk of bowel cancers because it produces a chemical that is vital to the regeneration of the surface of the bowel.
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The researchers studied mice who had a diet high in the chemical alongside mice that did not. The mice with the high-chemical diet were protected from cancer whereas those without showed signs of gut cells dividing uncontrollably – a sign of cancer.
“Even when the mice started developing tumours and we switched them to the appropriate diet, it halted tumour progression,” Dr Gitta Stockinger, from the team, told the BBC.
But to get the benefit, people should avoid overcooking vegetables, she added. “Make sure they’re not overcooked, no soggy broccoli.”
To follow up on their surprising findings, the scientists are now hoping to do further experiments using human gut biopsies.
Commenting on the findings Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s expert on diet and cancer, said: “This study in mice suggests that it’s not just the fibre contained in vegetables like broccoli and cabbage that help reduce the risk of bowel cancer, but also molecules found in these vegetables too.
“This adds to the evidence that a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, is important. Further studies will help find out whether the molecules in these vegetables have the same effect in people, but in the meantime there are already plenty of good reasons to eat more vegetables.”