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Long ago, Native Americans created many myths to explain why plants had such awesome medicinal powers. One of those myths went like this.

When the white men came to the New World, many white hunters wantonly killed animals, such as the buffalo – not for food and clothing, but purely for sport. The animals were enraged by such behavior and decided to put an end to the human race by turning their own flesh into poison. This would have surely worked, the Indians said, but for the plant kingdom, which convened a council where it was decided that the plants would become medicine for the illnesses created by the animals. Thus was born the healing power of plants.

Today, scientists have only scratched the surface in their understanding of the power of plants to heal. And among the most powerful of these healing foods, they have found, are a special family of vegetables known as the crucifers.

The crucifer vegetables, which include broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, and turnips are so chock full of healing chemicals that scientists now regard them as living forms of chemotherapy.

As immune boosters, they are remarkable. But no food, it seems, can match them for their ability to protect genes and stop cancers from growing.


The old research was purely epidemiological, meaning that populations of people who ate broccoli and other crucifers experienced lower rates of many forms of cancer. But as scientific tools became more sophisticated, and researchers have been able to peer in the world of genes, new discoveries have been made.

This new research now shows that crucifers act on genes to literally stop the formation of tumors of the breast, prostate, lungs, uterine lining, colon, liver, and cervix. Moreover, certain chemicals in broccoli and its cousins trigger the production of enzymes that cause cells to rid themselves of poisons that might otherwise cause cancer.

A study published in the medical journal, Nutrition and Cancer (2009;61 (2):232-7), examined the effects of broccoli on the genes of 20 men, ten of whom were smokers. All the men ate a 200 gram serving (about 7 ounces) of broccoli per day, for ten days straight. Blood samples of the men were taken to determine the amount of damage done to their DNA. These blood tests were done before the study began, and then again at 10 days (when the stopped eating the broccoli) and again 30 and 40 days after the study began.

We should pause here to say that all of us experience damage to our DNA. Strands of DNA get broken. When that happens, DNA coding can mutate, causing some cells to become cancerous.

When the scientists examined the blood samples from study participants, they found that DNA damage dropped significantly in both the smokers and the non-smokers. Fewer strands of DNA were now broken, thanks to the daily consumption of broccoli. But as the broccoli washed out of the body, its protective effects decreased and DNA damage returned to previous levels.

In addition, the researchers found that in the smokers, the oxidized proteins – which also damage DNA -- had also fallen significant. Oxidants, or free radicals, are highly reactive molecules that deform cells and damage DNA, sometimes causing mutations and various types of cancer.


Women who eat crucifers are far less likely to contract breast cancer, studies have shown. Among the reasons, scientists have found, is that these vegetables change the way the body metabolizes estrogen, the female hormone that can promote the onset of breast cancer. Certain forms of estrogen are highly toxic to the hormone sensitive organs, such as the breast, uterus, and ovaries. Chemicals found in broccoli, collard, mustard, Brussels sprouts, and other crucifers transform these cancer-causing estrogens into benign substances that are easily eliminated from the body.

These same foods protect cells from cancer in a variety of other ways, including by helping the body eliminate powerful cancer-causing toxins that can trigger the onset of cancer cells and tumors. One of the most power of these detoxifying chemicals is known as sulforaphane, which the scientists at Johns Hopkins University have been studying extensively.

Scientists tell us that sulforaphane can literally turn on genes that recognize cancer-causing agents, and then trigger de-toxifying actions that literally wipe out both the toxins and any small nests of cancer that they might produce.

“Carcinogens mutate the DNA in genes, which leads to cancer,” said Dr. Shyam Biswal, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “Now we know that sulforaphane present in broccoli can turn [on] an extensive network of genes and pathways, which can annihilate a broad spectrum of carcinogens.”


Yet another way that the cruciferous vegetables protect against cancer is by literally causing the death of cells. This is done by triggering apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells. Scientists have observed this exact phenomenon in men with low risk prostate cancer. But there is reason to believe that this same phenomenon occurs in other forms of cancer, such as those in the breast, uterus, or lung.

This may be one of the reasons why people with cancer who adopt a plant based diet live longer.


Women with lung cancer who ate higher amounts of fruits and vegetables – including lots of crucifers -- experienced longer survival than those who ate vegetables infrequently, according to a study done by at the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii. Consumption of broccoli and other foods rich in vitamin C was consistently associated with longer survival time.

Dr. James Carter and his colleagues at the Tulane School of Public Health in New Orleans reported that men with prostate cancer who followed a macrobiotic diet lived longer than men who received standard medical treatment.

Dr. Carter also found that people with pancreatic cancer who followed a macrobiotic diet lived substantially longer than those who were treated with standard medical care, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Carter followed patients pancreatic cancer for one year and found that 54.2 percent of those who adopted a macrobiotic diet were still alive one year after diagnosis, while only 10 percent of those who underwent standard medical care only were still alive.


Scientists have become increasingly interested in the use of a macrobiotic diet in the treatment of cancer, especially given that so many people with carefully documented case histories have overcome cancer with the use of the macrobiotic diet. That interest came to a head on February 25, 2002, when the National Cancer Institute's Committee for Alternative and Complementary Medicine (CAPCAM) voted unanimously to fund research on the macrobiotic diet as a therapeutic approach to cancer. The 15 member panel, which was made up of scientists from many different medical fields, decided that there was sufficient medical support for the macrobiotic approach to warrant serious study of the diet and lifestyle as a possible means of treating cancer. The panel members were presented with six meticulously documented case histories of people who had been diagnosed with end-stage cancer. All six used the macrobiotic diet and lifestyle to treat their cancers after conventional treatment had failed. All six are still alive, some of them more than two years after diagnosis.

Ralph Moss, Ph.D., a longtime cancer investigator and best-selling author, is a member of the NCI's CAPCAM panel that reviewed the macrobiotic presentation. After examining the evidence and macrobiotic case histories, Moss wrote the following:

"This session [of the CAPCAM panel] brought forth strong testimony that sometimes the adoption of a macrobiotic diet is followed by the dramatic regression of advanced cancers. A nurse told how, in 1995, she was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread all over her body. She received no effective conventional therapy, and reluctantly went on the macrobiotic diet... What makes this case so extraordinary is that her progress was monitored weekly by a sympathetic physician colleague. The shrinkage, and finally the disappearance, of her tumors was documented millimeter by millimeter! She has now been disease-free for over five years." A scientific study of the macrobiotic diet as a treatment for cancer is now being planned and will likely begin sometime in 2005. Several studies already done on people who have used the macrobiotic diet to treat end-stage cancer have demonstrated that the diet does appear to lengthen survival.

Plant-based diets that are especially rich in broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and other crucifers are far more powerful than vegetarian diets that are low in these foods.

"When we compared relative potency, vegetables from the cruciferous family, like broccoli and cabbage, [are far more protective and] reduced the risk [of cancer] even further," said Dr. Alan Kristal, who studied the effects of crucifers on prostate cancer rates. The scientists rigorously examined the eating habits of 1,230 men in the Seattle-area between the ages of 40 and 64. Overall vegetable consumption provided strong protection against prostate cancer, but the cruciferous vegetables were the strongest.

"At any given level of total vegetable consumption, as the percent of cruciferous vegetables increased, the prostate cancer risk decreased," Dr. Kristal told Reuters news service.

All of which means that crucifers should find their way to our plates every day of the week. In order to help you do that, Toby has provided an array of easy-to-follow recipes. There’s no more delicious way to get your medicine.


Chow Mein

1 block tofu

4 shitake mushrooms (soak for 15 minutes; slice and remove stems)

1 onion, diced

3 cups broccoli flowerettes

1 rib celery, diced

2 carrots, sliced

5 Chinese cabbage leaves, cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons shoyu

2 tablespoons kuzu


Toasted sesame oil

Umeboshi vinegar

1. Cut up the tofu into squares and marinate it in ¼ cup shoyu for twenty minutes. Grate some ginger and add to the liquid.

2. Fry the tofu until golden. Drain.

3. Saute onion, celery, carrots, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and broccoli until veggies are soft. Add fried tofu, along with 1 ½ cups hot water and the shoyu. Dissolve the kuzu in ½ cup cold water . Add it to the vegetables and continue to stir. Turn off heat. Add freshly grated ginger and umeboshi vinegar to taste.

Cabbage with Umeboshi Sauce

4 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced

4 teaspoons umeboshi paste

4 teaspoons kuzu, dissolved in 4 teaspoons water

1. Bring 1 ½ cups water to a boil, add cabbage and boil for five minutes.

2. Take out the cabbage but reserve the water.

3. Add umeboshi paste to the reserved water and bring to a boil again.

4. Stir in the dissolved kuzu and simmer until sauce thickens.

5. Pour over the cabbage.

Brussel Sprouts with Brown Rice Syrup-Ginger Glaze

1 ½ pounds brussel sprouts, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup freshly grated ginger

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup grated carrot

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1. Steam brussel sprouts for five minutes, or until tender. Drain.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet and add ginger, salt, grated carrot, brown rice syrup, and brown rice vinegar. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly.

3. Add cooked brussel sprouts, mixing in well with the glaze.

Red and Green Coleslaw

1 head red cabbage, grated

1 head green cabbage, grated

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey (optional)

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon celery seed

Combine all ingredients and allow to chill thoroughly for several hours.

Quick Broccoli with Roasted Peppers

1 small bunch broccoli, cut into flowerettes

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ roasted red pepper, cut into thin strips

½ teaspoon oregano

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

½ lemon – juiced

1. Bring pot of salted water to boil, add broccoli, and blanch for a few minutes, until tender.

2. Warm the olive oil in a skillet, add the broccoli, peppers, oregano, and garlic and sauté over medium heat for two or three minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice and parley.


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