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Cancer-Fighting Broccoli: New Study Sheds Light On What Makes The Veggie So Super

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Follow your mom's advice, and eat your broccoli!

Researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have discovered more insight into just how the green veggie helps to fight off cancer.

The root of it is in epigenetics, which is the term for how factors like diet and toxins can affect our genetic codes and the way our genes are "expressed."

Researchers have previously known that a compound in cruciferous vegetables called sulforaphane helps the body to fight off cancer. That's because the compound works to inhibit enzymes, called HDACs, which are known to work against the ability of certain genes to suppress the development of tumors.

But now, the new study in the journal Clinical Epigenetics shows that suforaphane also works in another way to fight cancer, through a mechanism called DNA methylation.

"It appears that DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, both of which can be influenced by sulforaphane, work in concert with each other to maintain proper cell function," Emily Ho, an associate professor in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said in a statement. "They sort of work as partners and talk to each other."

Ho explained in the statement how DNA methylation works:

DNA methylation, Ho said, is a normal process of turning off genes, and it helps control what DNA material gets read as part of genetic communication within cells. In cancer that process gets mixed up.

The researchers from Linus Pauling Institute previously conducted research showing just how powerful the sulforaphane in cruciferous veggies are. They found that as powerful broccoli is, broccoli sprouts -- which are usually sold next to alfalfa sprouts in grocery stores -- are more than 50 times more packed with sulforaphane than broccoli that's matured.

And in 2010, researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center published a study in the journal Clinical Cancer Research showing that sulforaphane was able to kill breast cancer stem cells in mice and in lab cultures, and also prevented new tumor cells from growing.

Recently, a study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that pairing broccoli with a spicy food containing the enzyme myrosinase seemed to enhance broccoli's cancer-fighting benefits.

"To get this effect, spice up your broccoli with broccoli sprouts, mustard, horseradish, or wasabi," study researcher Elizabeth Jeffery, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. "The spicier, the better; that means it's being effective."

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