I love talking about prevention, and a new study hinted at one answer to something I ask myself often. What can people who smoked once upon a time do to lower their risk of developing lung cancer?
Not an insignificant question to ask. The majority - yes the majority - of people who develop lung cancer now are former smokers, not current smokers. They have taken the most important step to lower their risk, but what can they do now?
Several studies have praised the role that cruciferous vegetables may play in cancer prevention, so researchers decided to look specifically at former and current smokers. They compared the dietary habits of nearly a thousand people with lung cancer to those of people who were initially thought to have lung cancer but didn't. Their findings revealed an inverse relationship between the amount of cruciferous vegetables consumed and the risk of lung cancer - and this was most significant for former smokers. Former and current smokers who consumed more than 4.5 servings per month were 55% less likely to develop lung cancer than those who ate less than 2.5 servings per month.
When something sounds too good to be true, I like to understand the science behind a study. This one makes a lot of sense. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates, a substance that is broken down into isothiocyanates in the body. Isothiocyanates have been shown in the lab and in animal studies to alter enzymes in the body that inhibit the cancer causing effects of tobacco.
A plus for those who just can't eat broccoli: If President Obama decided to lower his risk of lung cancer due to smoking by consuming more cruciferous vegetables, he wouldn't be discouraged if he had the same dietary preferences as former President George Bush. Other cruciferous vegetables included in the study were cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, turnip, collard, and mustard greens. For an extra punch, eat them raw. Raw cruciferous vegetables have 2 to 9 times more isothiocyanates than cooked varieties.
As a final note. These researchers remind us that isothiocyanates can only do so much, and quitting smoking is the most important step in lowering lung cancer risk.
Photo: flickr.com Creative Commons, user ella novak
Tang, L. et al. Cruciferous vegetable intake is inversely associated with lung cancer risk among smokers: a case-control study. BMC Cancer. 2010. doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-162.