Eschewed vegetables might stop diseases
Certain vegetables often ignored as less tasteful have a unique compound that makes them more protective against diabetes and heart disease, says a University of Hawaii plant nutrient researcher.
They are cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips and radishes, said Andre Theriault, professor and chairman of the Medical Technology Program, John A. Burns School of Medicine.
"Not all vegetables are equal," he said in an interview, describing greater health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, particularly the darker green ones.
It has been known that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower rate of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, Theriault said.
But it is not well known that cruciferous vegetables (in the mustard family) offer greater protection because of a potent form of phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol (1-3-C), he said.
His work was recently reported in the Journal of Nutrition, and he has a new $350,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health to continue his studies for three years.
Working with him are Dr. Joan Kuh, Dr. Adele Casaschi and Geoffrey Maiyoh.
Their study confirmed "favorable effects of cruciferous 1-3-C on cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) metabolism in human liver cells grown in culture dishes," he said.
"What is more exciting is we have been able to duplicate these findings in our animal model of Type 2 diabetes (the most prevalent form of diabetes).
"Also exciting is the discovery that supplementation of 1-3-C in our animal model improved the glucose/insulin levels, indicating that 1-3-C may be used to treat diabetes," he added.
For those who cannot stomach broccoli or some of the other cruciferous vegetables, an 1-3-C supplement is commercially available, Theriault said.
It is targeted primarily at the prevention and treatment of cancer, but the work in his laboratory provides new evidence of protective effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors, he said.
"On a global level the work offers good possibility that complementary and alternative medicine may indeed have a role in the prevention of chronic diseases," he said.
However, because the research has been done mostly on cells grown in petri dishes and animal studies, 1-3-C eventually must be tested in humans to confirm the results, he said.
Studies will continue on Type 2 diabetes with animal models, he said. The team also collaborates with the nutraceutical industry to provide expertise and compounds for testing, he said.
"In the long term it is hoped that our study will lead to a better understanding of how plant nutrients may be beneficial in treating the lipid and glucose abnormalities associated with Type 2 diabetes."