Colorectal cancers represent the fourth most prevalent form of the disease with more than 150,000 cases diagnosed each year and more than 50,000 deaths. Forward-thinking nutrition researchers understand that this particular form of the disease is largely preventable through lifestyle changes including healthy diet, exercise and smoking cessation. The newly emerging science of Epigenetics is shining a light on the specific mechanism of food-based nutrients to influence genetic expression helping to prevent many diseases, especially colon cancer.
Researchers from Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute have reported the result of their work in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research that demonstrates how spinach consumption neutralizes carcinogens in cooked foods to alter cancer stem cells and slash colon cancer risk. This study adds to the growing body of research that shows the potent nature of fresh, unaltered foods to prevent chronic diseases and the role of Epigenetics in cancer, or the ways in which gene expression and cell behavior can be changed even though DNA sequence information is unaltered.
Regular spinach consumption cuts colon tumor formation in half
The lead study author, Dr. Mansi Parasramka noted “Cancer development is a complex, multi-step process, with damaged cells arising through various means… this study showed that alterations of microRNAs affect cancer stem cell markers in colon cancer formation.” The researchers specifically targeted the damaging acrylamides and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when meats and other food sources are heated at high temperatures. These compounds influence microRNAs and genetic markers to increase risk of colorectal cancer.
Scientists know that cancer development is initiated by small changes in DNA sequencing, or mutations that result in uncontrolled cell growth. The rapidly emerging field of Epigenetics is showing how dietary, environmental and lifestyle influences can directly influence the expression of genes to promote or prevent many cancer lines and heart disease, diabetes and neurological disorders as well.
MicroRNAs, once thought to be genetic ‘junk,’ are now recognized as critical components to the Epigenetic equation as they determine which areas of our genes are expressed or remain silent as a result of environmental influences such as diet. The researchers monitored 679 known microRNAs to find out how they responded or were expressed when exposed to different food sources.
The study team found that consumption of spinach can partially offset the damaging effects of many food-induced carcinogens. In tests with laboratory animals, the leafy greens cut the incidence of colon tumors almost in half, from 58 percent to 32 percent. The researchers concluded “The good news about epigenetics and microRNA alterations is that we may be able to restore normal cell function, via diet and healthy life style choices.” While spinach was found to exert a powerful effect on genetic expression to inhibit colon tumor formation, a varied diet of fresh, uncooked vegetables will yield a health-promoting shield to protect against many forms of cancer and chronic disease.
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