Plant-based diets are known for benefits such as better heart health, lower blood pressure, and now, making deadly breast cancer tumors treatable. Over the years, plenty of studies have linked fruits and vegetables to a lower incidence of cancer, but a recent experiment conducted on mice looked at how two specific compounds found in food could be used to treat women who have the most fatal type of breast cancer.
In most instances, researchers focus on just a single compound to avoid any adverse consequences of comingling, but a team believed that sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables, and polyphenols, found in green tea, would pair well, as Trygve Tollefsbol, who co-authored the study, stated.
“To overcome that concern, we chose compounds that we felt confident would interact well together, because they have similar favorable biological effects but still have different mechanisms for carrying out these effects that would not interfere with one another.”
All breast cancers are either estrogen receptor-positive or estrogen receptor-negative. The tumors in estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer don’t respond as well to hormone therapy as tumors that are ER-positive. This means that ER-negative breast cancers are usually very aggressive.
Researchers were hoping the compounds would turn estrogen receptor–negative into a form of the disease known as ER-positive. The ER-negative forms are deadlier since hormonal therapies don’t work, leaving women with fewer treatment options.
In the lab experiment, mice were given an “anti-cancer” diet containing the compounds a couple of weeks before researchers injected them with breast cancer cells. The plan continued following their “diagnosis” to show potential prevention and treatment strategies. The team found that this combination actually made the tumors ER-positive, which made them treatable with hormone therapy. Researchers were amazed that the diet was able to create an epigenetic change, altering the disease’s genes without changing DNA.
Due to the fact that the study, published this week in Scientific Reports, took place in mice, there’s no way to determine, at least not yet, whether the results apply to human breast cancers. The team from the University of Alabama, Birmingham does hope to start a clinical trial in humans to see if simply eating broccoli could save thousands of lives. But that doesn’t mean you can’t actually implement the epigenetics diet, as study co-author Trygve Tollefsbol calls it.
“Our studies suggest that the diet could be incorporated at any age and in patients who have estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer,” he said in an email.
Tollefsbol did state that while the diet won’t be standard in breast cancer treatment plans anytime soon, there’s no harm in adding broccoli and tea to your shopping cart.
“The consumption of this diet consisting of cruciferous vegetable and green tea is generally considered very safe,” he says.
People can easily include the human equivalent of Tollefsbol’s mouse diet in their own daily routine as a preventative measure by drinking two cups of green tea and eating two cups of broccoli sprouts per day.
[Featured Image by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock]