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How I Explain the Importance of Indole-3-Carbinol’s Cancer-Fighting Properties to Patients

James Meschino DC, MS, ROHP

Observational studies over the years have noted that people who regularly consume cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, bok choy) have lower rates of many cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. Researchers have investigated cruciferous vegetables in an attempt to identify the active agent(s) that account for this cancer-protective effect. As it turns out, cruciferous vegetables are unique in that they contain Sulforaphane and Indole-3-carbinol. Both of these natural agents enhance the body’s ability to detoxify cancer-causing chemical, but Indole-3-Carbinol exhibits other impressive anti-cancer effects that should be recognized.

Your Body Makes Cancer Cells Every Day
You may not realize it but every day of your life your body creates some cancer cells (as old cells replace new ones).  Under healthy conditions, the emerging cancer cells realize that something has gone array and the cell initiates a series of steps that encourage the cell to commit suicide (to prevent it from becoming a danger to the rest of the body).

How does this work? Some of the genes in our DNA act as sensors, which are triggered when a cell is becoming cancerous, infected by a virus or bacteria, or damaged from physical trauma. Once the sensors identify a problem the sensor genes (called tumor suppressor genes) instruct other genes to make specific proteins that ultimately rip apart the energy factory of the cell (causing a power outage) and destroy the genetic material of the cell (so it cannot reproduce). This leads to cell death or what researchers call “programmed cell death” or “apoptosis”.  However, some emerging cancer cells become very intelligent and, in their desire to survive and multiply, they produce other chemicals that prevent the cell from committing suicide via programmed cell death. This is how cancer cells get traction and give themselves the opportunity to multiply like rabbits and form malignant tumors.

Indole-3-Carbinol Blocks the Cancer Cell’s Replication Ability
Via several mechanisms Indole-3-Carbinol has been shown to disrupt the cancer cell’s attempt to by-pass programmed cell death (cell suicide). Experimental studies show that Indole-3-Carbinol and its metabolites (products made from Indole-3-Carbinol in the body’s metabolism) can, not only stop the growth of certain types of cancer cells, but also trigger them into committing suicide. This is an important way in which the Indole-3-Carbinol is thought to lower our risk of cancer. So, in addition to speeding up the body’s ability to neutralize (detoxify) and eliminate cancer-causing chemicals, Indole-3-Carbinol also appears to help ensure that any emerging cancer cells will commit suicide before they can become a threat to the body. Supplementation with Indole-3-Carbinol in human clinical studies has also shown that it can reverse cervical dysplasia and vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (tumor) in a high percentage of cases, which are two precancerous conditions that occur in women. Another study showed that Indole-3-Carbinol supplementation reversed respiratory papillomas as well.

Healthier Hormones
In addition to all of this, Indole-3-Carbinol also helps prevent the build-up of the form of estrogen that is linked to breast and uterine cancers. Researchers have identified that when a woman’s body makes more 16-OH estrone and less 2-OH estrone that her risk of reproductive organ cancer is greater. Indole-3-Carbinol promotes the conversion estrone to 2-OH estrone, the form of estrone that is safer and less potent, and reduces the build-up of the dangerous 16-OH estrone. It’s not just a woman thing, as studies reported in the International Journal of Nutrition and Cancer indicate that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables is also associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Indole-3-Carbinol Supplementation Makes Sense
As one of the most powerful and proven cancer-fighting nutrients ever identified, you may not want to leave it to chance that you will derive optimal Indole-3-Carbinol protection from food alone. You should consume broccoli or some combination of cruciferous vegetables at least 4 to 5 times per week. In addition to that, you should consider Indole-3-Carbinol supplementation to further optimize your cancer defenses on a daily basis. A practical way to do this is to take a supplement that contains an additional 25 mg of Indole-3-Carbinol per capsule, and also includes Milk Thistle (which also boosts detoxification function at the cellular level) and two important immune-system boosters – Reishi Mushroom Extract and Astragalus. The reason to combine these nutrients is because your body’s detoxification and immune systems work hand-in-glove to help prevent cancer. As we get older (after 45-50) our detoxification and immune systems become progressively sluggish and that is when cancer incidence begins to go through the roof. I take two capsules per day of this type of immune and detoxification boosting formula for general wellbeing and health optimization. If you feel a cold coming on, you may wish to double the dosage, taking four capsules per day, to help your immune system defeat the virus before it can really take hold.

Thus, in addition to boosting your detoxification and immune systems, you may take some comfort in understanding the additional ways that the Indole-3-Carbinol may also be helping to reduce risk of developing cancer, as outlined in this review. Indole-3-Carbinol is truly a powerful agent in cancer prevention and you should strive to attain optimal levels on a daily and weekly basis.

Selected References:

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  3. Verhoeven, D.T., Goldbohm, R.A., van Poppel, G., et al. Epidemiological studies on brassica vegetables and cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1996; 5: 733-48 [review]
  4. Talaley, P., Zhang, Y. Chemoprotection against cancer by isothiocyanates and glucosinolates. Biochem Soc Trans 1996; 24: 806-10
  5. Maheo, L., Morel, F., Langouet, S., et al. Inhibition of cytochromes P-450 and induction of glutathione S-transferases by sulforaphane in primary human and rat hepatocytes. Cancer Res 1997; 57: 3649-52
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  7. Plumb, G.W., Lambert N., Chambers, S.J., et al. Are whole extracts and purified glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables antioxidants? Free Radic Res 1996; 25: 75-86
  8. Dhinmi, S.R., Li, Y., Upadhyay, S., Koppolu, P.K., Sarkar, F.H. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) – induced cell growth inhibition, G1 cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in prostate cancer cells. Oncogene 2001, May 24; 20 (23): 2927-36
  9. Stoewsand, G.S. Bioactive organosulfur phytochemicals in Brassica oleracea vegetables – a review. Food Chem Toxicol 1995; 33: 537-43
  10. Broadbent, T.A., Broadbent, H.S. The chemistry and pharmacology of indole-3-carbinol (indole-3-methanol) and 3-(methoxymethyl) Indole. [Part I]. Curr Med Chem 1998; 5: 337-52
  11. Broadbent, T.A., Broadbent, H.S. The chemistry and pharmacology of indole-3-carbinol (indole-3-methanol) and 3-(methoxymethyl) Indole. [Part II]. Curr Med Chem 1998; 5: 469-91
  12. Broadbent, T.A., Broadbent, H.S. The chemistry and pharmacology of indole-3-carbinol (indole-3-methanol) and 3-(methoxymethyl) Indole. [Part I]. Curr Med Chem 1998; 5: 337-52
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