New evidence from a large study in China suggests that chemicals contained in broccoli, cabbage and bok choy can help protect people from developing lung cancer. The study of more than 18,000 men found that people with detectable amounts of chemicals known as isothiocyanates in their bodies had a 36% lower chance of developing lung cancer over 10 years than those without the chemicals. The chemicals are found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. Isothiocyanates might fight cancer by promoting the production of antioxidants and by inhibiting enzymes that allow carcinogens in cigarette smoke to damage DNA. The lowered cancer risk associated with isothiocyanate levels held up even after influences like smoking were factored out.
While the results suggest that eating broccoli and related vegetables can lower cancer risk even for smokers, no one should assume that isothiocyanates would be enough to protect smokers from cancer. Though the chemicals did lower cancer risk by 36% in this study, smoking alone increases lung cancer risk by as much as 10 times.
Isothiocyanates are not commercially available in pill form. But even if they were, researchers have no way of knowing how the more than 20 different isothiocyanates interact with each other and with the body to lower cancer risk.
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