Cancer – Combining nutrients is key

Dr Paul Clayton 2004

When it comes to putting together a health-protective diet, you would be wise not to rely on any so-called ‘miracle’ food. It is all to do with dietary variety – how and what you put together on your plate. Dr Yongping Bao, a leading scientist at the Norwich-based Institute of Food Research, showed last year that the combination of selenium plus sulphurophane (a sulphur compound present in brassica) is 13 times more cancer-protective than either compound on its own(1). His latest research demonstrates exactly the same principle(2); that when it comes to eating healthily, the whole dish is greater than the sum of its parts.

Dr Bao’s group looked again at sulphurophane, and this time combined it with apigenin, a flavonoid found in fruits such as apples, cherries, beans and broccoli, and in wine and tea. Both compounds have anti-cancer properties; including the ability to encourage the body to increase production of the detoxifying Phase 2 enzymes. These enzymes detoxify carcinogens by making them more excretable, and can also delete genetically damaged cells before they can become cancerous.

Either compound on its own increased levels of the Phase 2 enzymes four-fold – but the combination of the two phyto-nutrients led to a 12-fold increase.

The general principle that micro- and phyto-nutrients work best together is supported by US research which showed the benefits of combining broccoli with tomatoes(3), both of which are linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Rats fed on whole broccoli and tomatoes had markedly fewer cases of prostate cancer than those given either broccoli or tomatoes alone; and better than those who ate a normal diet enriched with sulphur compounds and lycopene.

The lesson is, eat a diet rich in plant foods, and combine as many plant foods as is practical.


1 Zhang J et al, Carcinogenesis vol 24 pp.497-503, 2003

2 Bao Y et al, Carcinogenesis vol 25, September 2004

3 Erdman J et al, reported at American Institute for Cancer Research July, 2004, to be published in the Journal of Nutrition, December 2004