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.
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