Breast Cancer Prevention

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness

What’s the color of breast cancer? Thanks to the growing number of products sporting ribbons encouraging breast cancer prevention awareness, most of us would probably say pink. But maybe we should start thinking green instead – especially if we or someone we know is battling breast cancer.

The green I’m talking about is a staple of the produce aisle – broccoli. Results of a British study suggest that a molecule found in broccoli not only helps to prevent breast cancer, it also discourages the growth of breast cancer cells and could even be used alongside existing cancer drugs to help combat the disease.

Breast Cancer Prevention and the Killer Veggie

Doctors have known about the benefits of this broccoli compound – known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) – for years. The primary focus, however, was prevention since I3C combats breast cancer by converting a cancer-promoting estrogen into a more protective variety. Studies have also shown that the sulfur compounds in I3C bind to cancer-causing chemicals and activate enzymes that, in turn, help the body detoxify the carcinogens. Because of these duel actions, I3C can reduce breast cancer risk by 14 percent. But a new study from the University of Leicester found that I3C may go far beyond prevention to actually help those who are actively undergoing treatment for the disease.

Dr. Margaret Manson, the study’s author, found that after supplementation with I3C, breast cancer cells were more easily killed when exposed to chemotherapy. In lab tests, Dr. Manson’s team analyzed the effects of adding a daily dose of 300 mg. to 400 mg. of I3C to four different types of breast cancer cells. They discovered that I3C changed chemical signaling processes within the cells, making them more susceptible to anticancer drugs. The result? The cancer cells started to die.

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The researchers are now planning clinical human trials of I3C with the hope of eventually providing a new treatment option for patients with breast cancer. Of course, this is exciting news because if I3C works as well in humans as it does in a test tube, it could prove useful for breast cancer patients both during treatment and after since it’s likely that I3C can also help reduce the risk of recurrence.

But if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you probably don’t want to wait for clinical trials – not to mention FDA approval – to reap the benefits of this cancer-killing compound. And, since I3C can be found in numerous broccoli products, you don’t have to! Eating broccoli on a regular basis (at least four times a week) can increase your blood levels of I3C. Just be aware that indoles break down very quickly when cooked, so eat your broccoli raw or minimally cooked for the greatest benefit.

Along with eating more broccoli, you can also take I3C supplements, which are available in either 200 mg or 400 mg. capsules, to be sure you are getting this important compound every day. Even if breast cancer isn’t an immediate concern, a growing number of experts recommend that every healthy, non-pregnant woman over the age of 30 take I3C supplements for the best possible protection against the disease. Good advice, particularly since the supplements carry no risk, there is no downside and the cost is minimal. Just don’t substitute the supplements for fresh broccoli since the actual vegetable provides the most potent form of I3C.

Breast Cancer Prevention and Keeping It at Bay

I3C isn’t the only anti-cancer molecule in broccoli. Another phytochemical – sulforaphane – prevents colon, rectal and, yes, breast cancer by triggering the production of certain enzymes that can deactivate free radicals and carcinogens. These enzymes also inhibit the growth of tumors.

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Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign exposed cultures of malignant human breast cancer cells to sulphoraphane. Within hours, it had blocked cell division and disrupted microtubules, which are long, slender cylinders made up of a protein essential for the division of cancer cells. Other studies show that sulphoraphane acts like an indirect antioxidant. In other words, it doesn’t work directly on free radicals but boosts the defense system, letting the body itself fight free radicals.

While broccoli contains respectable amounts of sulphoraphane, eating broccoli sprouts will give you more bang for your buck. Broccoli sprouts have a consistent level of sulforaphane – as much as 20 times higher than the levels found in mature heads of broccoli. They’re tasty too and can be added to salads or sandwiches for an easy shot of cancer protection.

One Last Thing About Breast Cancer Prevention…

Broccoli is just one of many vegetable boasting I3C and sulforaphane. All cruciferous vegetables contain these two cancer-fighting compounds – so mustard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and various cabbages should always have a place at the dinner table.

Since the cruciferous family offers such a wide variety of choices, you should work one of them into a meal every day – and not just because these veggies guard against breast cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, several studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables help regulate a complex system of body enzymes that defend against a number of other cancers too. Large human studies have linked diets high in cruciferous vegetables with lower risk for lung, stomach and colorectal cancers.

This Just In …

People constantly ask me when they should take their supplements. The short answer is whenever you can make it a habit to remember them every day. Some folks find that breakfast is the perfect time. Others do better at dinnertime. Still others stash them in their desk at work so they don’t forget to take them.

If you want to get the most from your supplements, the answer is a little more involved. Unless the label says otherwise, most supplements – especially calcium, vitamin C and the B vitamins – are better taken with food to enhance absorption and minimize stomach upset. Some cholesterol-reducing supplements should also be taken with a meal. Policosanol and phytosterols don’t activate without a good supply of food in the gut, so they should be taken with your largest meal of the day. Niacin, on the other hand, should be taken with a snack just before bedtime to reduce flushing.

A few supplements are best taken on an empty stomach. One is glutamine. Probiotics are another. Digestive enzymes like bromelain can be taken with or without food, depending on the result you’re looking for. If you take these enzymes as a digestive aid, take them with food. But if you’re trying to combat inflammation, these supplements are best taken on an empty stomach.

Iron should also be taken on an empty stomach for the best absorption. If you are taking just a small amount of iron in a multi-vitamin it probably doesn’t matter. But if you are taking an iron supplement to treat anemia it is best to take it alone, on an empty stomach. Iron supplements should also be taken separately from calcium supplements when possible.

While it can be hard to schedule your supplements for optimal benefit, the most important thing is to remember to take them – even if you can’t take them under ideal conditions. After all, supplements that never make it out of the bottle won’t do you a darn bit of good.


“Broccoli molecule may help combat breast cancer.” National Cancer Research Institute Conference; Birmingham, UK: 8-11 October 2006.

Jackson SJ, Singletary KW. “Sulforaphane inhibits human MCF-7 mammary cancer cell mitotic progression and tubulin polymerization.” Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134:2229-2236.

Johnston N. “Sulforaphane halts breast cancer cell growth.” Drug Discoveries Today. 2004;9:908.

Sundar SN, Kerekatte V, Equinozio CN, et al. “Indole-3-carbinol selectively uncouples expression and activity of estrogen receptor subtypes in human breast cancer cells.” Molecular Endocrinology. 2006;20:3070-3082

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