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Source: Daily Mail

Broccoli has long been hailed as a superfood, and it could soon protect people from cancer of the mouth, throat, neck and head, a study claims.

Scientists are developing a new treatment known as ‘green chemoprevention’ in which broccoli and other vegetables are used to prevent the disease.

They explained that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and garden cress have a high concentration of sulforaphane – which is why they have a slightly bitter taste.

Previous studies, including large-scale trials in China, have shown sulforaphane helps ‘undo’ the effects of cancer-causing agents in the environment.

Now, lab tests have shown extracts made from broccoli sprout protected mice against oral cancer.

American scientists now plan to carry out clinical trials on patients at high risk of having their head and neck cancer return.

They will be given capsules containing broccoli seed powder to determine if they can be tolerated, and to test whether it has enough of an impact on their oral lining cells, where cancers form, to prevent the disease.

Associate professor Dr Julie Bauman, of the University of Pittsburgh, said: ‘People who are cured of head and neck cancer are still at very high risk for a second cancer in their mouth or throat, and, unfortunately, these second cancers are commonly fatal.

‘So we’re developing a safe, natural molecule found in cruciferous vegetables to protect the oral lining where these cancers form.’

As part of the study, mice predisposed to oral cancer were given sulforaphane over several months.

Scientists found the extract significantly reduced the incidence and number of tumours in the rodents.

Professor Daniel Johnson, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said: ‘The clear benefit of sulforaphane in preventing oral cancer in mice raises hope that this well-tolerated compound also may act to prevent oral cancer in humans who face chronic exposure to environmental pollutants and carcinogens.’

The research also involved giving 10 healthy volunteers fruit juice mixed with sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract.

The volunteers had no ill-effects from the extract and scientists discovered the extract caused changes in the lining of their mouths which protected them against cancer.

This meant the sulforaphane was absorbed and directed to at-risk tissue.

These findings were enough to prompt a clinical trial that will recruit 40 volunteers who have been previously been treated for head and neck cancer.

Depending on the results, larger clinical trials could be carried out.

Professor Bauman added: ‘We call this “green chemoprevention”, where simple seed preparations or plant extracts are used to prevent disease.

‘Green chemoprevention requires less money and fewer resources than a traditional pharmaceutical study, and could be more easily disseminated in developing countries where head and neck cancer is a significant problem.’

The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Earlier studies have linked sulforaphane to breast cancer prevention.

It has been found to target the cells that fuel the growth of tumours, preventing the cancer from developing, or spreading when it is established.

The chemical may also help to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by boosting the body’s defence system to keep arteries unclogged.

Previous research has also investigated sulforaphane as a treatment for autism, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease.