As researchers race to find new ways to prevent and treat cancer, studies examining the link between cancer and diet abound. A recent review by the University of Colorado Cancer Center investigates one of these diet-cancer relationships: the link between rice bran and colon cancer.
The review’s senior author is Elizabeth P. Ryan, Ph.D, of Colorado University’s Cancer Center. She explains that "there’s a delicate balance of bioactive components in rice bran that together show anti-cancer activity including the ability to inhibit cell proliferation, alter cell cycle progression and initiate the programmed cell death known as apoptosis in malignant cells."
Ryan’s review shows that a number of small molecules can be derived from rice bran. These molecules are considered bioactive, meaning they have an effect on living tissue. These molecules include polyphenolics, ferulic acid, tricin, and phytic acid.
Ryan and her team are currently working on understanding the ratios of each of these active molecules. "It looks now as if rather than any one compound giving rice bran its chemopreventive powers, it's the synergistic activity of multiple components in the whole food that should be studied," she says.
Not only does rice bran seem to have an effect on cancer cells, it also seems to act on the tissue around cancer cells. This creates an environment that helps cells to function in a healthy way in addition to inhibiting cancer cells.
What Other Foods Fight Cancer?
While the research on rice bran is still developing, there are other foods that have been examined for their cancer-fighting properties. In general, the type of diet that fights cancer is the kind that promotes health in other ways. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats are the components of a healthy diet that also help fight cancer. There are several foods in particular that may have higher cancer-fighting properties than others. Here are a few of them:
• Broccoli: This cruciferous vegetable may not be everyone’s favorite part of dinner, but it contains a number of protective enzymes that can help fight cancer. Chief among these enzymes is sulforaphane, which is currently being studied for its ability to detoxify harmful substances. A review conducted for the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found that broccoli is most protective against cancers of the stomach, mouth and esophagus. If broccoli really is not to your taste, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale have similar benefits.
• Garlic: Garlic contains sulfur compounds that can make your breath stink. However, these same compounds can stop cancer-causing substances from building up. Garlic also has bacteria-fighting properties, slowing down cancer-causing H. pylori. To get the most out of your garlic, use garlic cloves in your cooking instead of relying on supplements.
• Strawberries: Aside from making a delicious snack or dessert, strawberries (along with other berries) can help protect against heart disease and cancer. Strawberries contain ellagic acid, a substance that energizes cancer-fighting enzymes. In addition, strawberries are high in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that reduces cancer-causing free radicals in the body. A review of hundreds of clinical studies suggests that eating berries and other kinds of fruits may decrease the risk of lung cancer and prevent cancers of the stomach, mouth and esophagus.
• Spinach: An NIH/AARP study found that people who eat more spinach were not as likely to suffer from cancer of the esophagus. This may be because spinach is a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids help remove free radicals from the body, keeping them from damaging tissue. Spinach is also a great source of folate, a nutrient that protects women of childbearing age against neural tube defects in their developing fetus.
What Is Next for Rice Bran?
Rice bran may soon join the list of foods that are proven to help fight cancer. However, before that happens there are a few more things for researchers to examine. Because there are over 100,000 varieties of rice in the world, it will take some time to figure out which ones work best to fight cancer. However, Ryan remains hopeful. "Rice is an accessible, low-cost food in most places of the world," she says, "so work with rice bran as a dietary chemopreventive agent has the potential to impact a significant portion of the world’s population."