Medical and bio-chemical research demonstrates that eating foods high in phytonutrients and carotenoids, which are found in fruits and vegetables, is directly associated with reduced rates of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Phytonutrients are found in the pigmented portion of the fruit and vegetable, and serve different functions. For example lycopene, which is part of the tomato’s red pigment, is associated with a lower risk of prostate and breast cancer. Curcumin, which is the phytonutrient that accounts for the bright yellow color of the spice turmeric is associated with strong anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
What’s interesting, is that the phytonutrients work best when consumed in their original form, and from a variety of sources. There has been an attempt to isolate a specific phytonutrient, or create them artificially in the lab, in order to make supplements. On further testing these supplements do not appear to have the same beneficial effect. Why is that?
That’s what a group of scientists decided to find out.
How Phytonutrients Work Best
In the research study titled “The anti-cancer effects of carotenoids and other phytonutrients resides in their combined activity” scientists studied exactly how these phytonutrients found in plant foods work in the human body.
They specifically looked at how phytonutrients either taken alone, or in combination, affected something called signaling pathways. Cancer cells have specific receptors which when signaled can stimulate growth, or get in the way of growth.
When individual phytonutrients were used completely alone, there was little to no beneficial effect noted. However, when phytonutrients were used together with other compounds found in whole plant foods, the phytonutrients worked against the cancer cells. According to the researchers:
“…beneficial effects of phytochemical mixtures present in fruits, vegetables and other dietary components reside, at least partly, on complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action of these nutrients on several cellular pathways.”
The phytonutrients and natural plant chemicals found in whole, fresh fruits and vegetables provide the best possible benefit to prevent disease and reduce risk of cancers, because they include all of the phytonutrients and compounds that need to work together. In addition, processing or trying to isolate specific compounds can lead to changes in, or damage to that nutrient.
As the researchers say, it’s the “complementary and overlapping mechanisms” that have be best effect.
What to Eat?
There are many excellent sources of phytonutrients! Look for color to get a wide range of benefits.
Consuming the actual foods is the key. Commit to eating fruit during snacks every day. Food such as vegetables, leafy greens, beans and rice should make up the bulk of a healthy diet.
As always, don’t just take my word for it. The research sources are cited in full below, so you can review on your own.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
- Goel, A.B. Kunnumakkara, B.B. Aggarwal (2008) Curcumin as “Curecumin”: From kitchen to clinic Biochemical Pharmacology 75 (2008)787–809.
Gladys Block, Blossom Patterson & Amy Subar (1992) Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: A review of the epidemiological evidence Nutrition and Cancer
- Guo, Y.M. Xu, Z.Q. Ye, J.H. Yu, X.Y. Hu, (2013) Curcumin induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis of prostate cancer cells by regulating the expression of IκBα, c-Jun and androgen receptor Pharmazie 68 (2013) 431–434.
Krinsky, N. Johnson, E. (2005) Carotenoid actions and their relation to health and disease; Molecular Aspects of Medicine Volume 26, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 459–516
Linnewiel-Hermoni, K., Khanin, M., Danilenko, M., Zango, G., Amosi, Y., Levy, J., & Sharoni, Y. (2015). The anti-cancer effects of carotenoids and other phytonutrients resides in their combined activity. Archives Of Biochemistry And Biophysics, 572(Highlights of Carotenoid Research from the 17th International Carotenoid Symposium), 28-35. doi:10.1016/j.abb.2015.02.018
N.P. Holzapfel, B.M. Holzapfel, S. Champ, J. Feldthusen, J. Clements, D.W. Hutmacher, (2013) The Potential Role of Lycopene for the Prevention and Therapy of Prostate Cancer: From Molecular Mechanisms to Clinical Evidence International Journal of Molecular Science 14 (2013) 14620–14646