August 20, 2007
Broccoli Compound Boosts Immune System Against Cancer?

Eat cruciferous vegetables to boost your immune system.

Berkeley -- A compound found in broccoli and related vegetables may have more health-boosting tricks up its sleeves, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Veggie fans can already point to some cancer-fighting properties of 3,3'-diindolylmethane (DIM), a chemical produced from the compound indole-3-carbinol when Brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and kale are chewed and digested. Animal studies have shown that DIM can actually stop the growth of certain cancer cells.

This new study in mice, published online today (Monday, Aug. 20) in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, shows that DIM may help boost the immune system as well.

"We provide clear evidence that DIM is effective in augmenting the immune response for the mice in the study, and we know that the immune system is important in defending the body against infections of many kinds and cancer," said Leonard Bjeldanes, UC Berkeley professor of toxicology and principal investigator of the study. "This finding bodes well for DIM as a protective agent against major human maladies."

Previous studies led by Bjeldanes and Gary Firestone, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology, have shown that DIM halts the division of breast cancer cells and inhibits testosterone, the male hormone needed for growth of prostate cancer cells.

In the new study, the researchers found increased blood levels of cytokines, proteins which help regulate the cells of the immune system, in mice that had been fed solutions containing doses of DIM at a concentration of 30 milligrams per kilogram. Specifically, DIM led to a jump in levels of four types of cytokines: interleukin 6, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, interleukin 12 and interferon-gamma.

The scientists think the immune boosting effect of DIM might be one of the reasons why cruciferous vegetables seem to reduce the incidence of cancer.

"It is well-known that the immune system can seek out and destroy tumor cells, and even prevent tumor growth," said Xue. "An important type of T cell, called a T killer cell, can directly kill certain tumor cells, virally infected cells and sometimes parasites. This study provides strong evidence that could help explain how DIM blocks tumor growth in animals."

DIM was also able to induce higher levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), substances which must be released by macrophages in order to kill some types of bacteria as well as tumor cells. The induction of ROS - three times that of a control culture - after DIM was added to the cell culture signaled the activation of macrophages, the researchers said.

"The effects of DIM were transient, with cytokine and lymphocyte levels going up and then down, which is what you'd expect with an immune response," said Bjeldanes. "Interestingly, to obtain the effects on the immune response, DIM must be given orally, not injected. It could be that the metabolism of the compound changes when it is injected instead of eaten."

I get a lot of people asking me what is the ideal diet. My answer: the kind of diet you probably don't like. That's the problem with the diet research. Mostly it turns up more reasons to eat huge amounts of vegetables. People don't want to hear that answer.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 20 10:53 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies

Dave said at August 21, 2007 9:39 AM:

If the immune system is good at stopping cancer, do crocodiles get cancer? they have a extremely powerful immune system.

purenoiz said at August 21, 2007 3:35 PM:

humans are Mammals crocs are are Amphibians, we have very different DNA. They are descendants of the Dinosaurs, we are not.

Cancer is approx 280 different diseases. Some get your immune system to avoid attacking them using the same system a fetus uses to protect themselves from their mothers immune system.

Read up on cancer at Or read the book The cancer industry.

jonrivere said at August 21, 2007 11:42 PM:


Crocodiles are neither amphibians (they are reptiles) nor are they descended from dinosaurs (and neither are the amphibians for that matter). Even if they do have divergent DNA from mammals, that does not mean they aren't interesting subjects to study, and more so if they are more than less immune to various cancers. Where do you get your facts, comic books?

glock said at August 24, 2007 5:59 PM:

Forgive me if this is a naive question, buuutttttt,
how much truth is there to the allegations by my "organic only" friends that eating more fruits and veggies (particularly hi maintenance things like strawberries) if not organically grown, exposes one to all sorts of residual 'cides' like herbi, and pesti, to name a couple, and more than counteracts any benefits gained by such a dietary improvement.

Mike D said at August 27, 2007 10:34 AM:

The discoverers of this phenomenon at UC Berkeley have started a dietary supplement based on this discovery called ActivaMune that is a fund-raiser for nature-based cancer research at UCB. More info on ActivaMune is available at:

We would be very grateful if you could help spread the word.

Julie Health said at September 21, 2009 12:57 PM:

Try Immunosense, going live very shortly. Its a simple CHEWABLE immunity boosting suppliment with PROBIOTICS!
And its delicious too. Offering free samples in the next few weeks:


Mike said at October 11, 2012 8:41 PM:

This is very encouraging clinical proof of what many of us have already suspected. I know that I'm going to eat more organic broccoli from now on! Another way to help activate and modulate natural killer cells is by taking the supplement Cyto Ess. It is a great natural supplement that features the use of Ai/E-10 - A patented refined lacteal process of Bovine Colostrum. It is produced from a 100% organic and grass fed private dairy herd and has numerous clinical studies regarding it's success.

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