Flavonoids in fruits and vegetables help prevent colorectal cancer
03/23/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Flavonoids in fruits and vegetables help prevent colorectal cancer

We all know that nutrients like vitamins and minerals, most of which come from plants and plant-based foods, confer various health benefits. But one class of nutrients in plants continues to stand out: flavonoids.

Flavonoids are phytochemicals found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including berries, apples, beans and even green tea leaves.

Scientists have long been studying the anti-cancer activities of flavonoids, especially with regards to one of the most common types of cancer in the United States: colorectal cancer.

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A recent study from South Dakota State University showed how exactly do flavonoids help ward off colorectal cancer.

How do flavonoids prevent colorectal cancer?

The study, which appeared in the journal Cancer, was built off of the findings of an earlier study conducted by the same group of researchers. In that earlier study, they saw how a salicylic acid derivative called 2,4,6-trihydroxybenzoic acid (2,4,6-THBA) was able to effectively slow down the growth of cancer cells.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid present in small amounts in some vegetables, including mushrooms, fresh carrots, onions, pumpkins and spinach. The researchers went on to search for other sources of 2,4,6-THBA. They found that 2,4,6-THBA is naturally produced when flavonoids are digested in the human gut.

Flavonoids are broken down when they enter the intestines. The bacteria that live in your intestine do most of the work, reducing flavonoids into metabolites, one of which is 2,4,6-THBA. This metabolite can bind to three important enzymes that normally help cells divide. The researchers hypothesized that this is how 2,4,6-THBA helps prevent colorectal cancer cells from spreading.

Previous studies on 2,4,6-THBA showed that it can’t enter cells without help from a transporter protein called SLC5A8. True enough, the researchers found that 2,4,6-THBA was able to enter colorectal cancer cells that expressed the transporter protein but could not enter cells that did not express the transporter protein.

Once the flavonoid metabolite enters a cancer cell, it can prevent cancer using one of two methods. The first is by slowing the rate at which a cancer cell divides to give immune cells a chance to locate and destroy it, as well as other cancer cells.

The second is by slowing the rate at which a cell mutates, giving it more time to repair any damage to its DNA. Damage to DNA is how mutations occur, which raises the risk of cells growing out of control and forming into tumors that could later become malignant.

Armed with this new knowledge, the researchers are now investigating which specific gut bacteria break down flavonoids into 2,4,6-THBA. Knowing which bacteria are responsible for “creating” the metabolite may lead to the creation of probiotics designed to prevent colorectal cancer in the future.

What else can flavonoids do?

Beyond helping prevent colorectal cancer, flavonoids can do so much more for your health. One way they help benefit your health is by preventing harmful molecules called free radicals from oxidizing LDL cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol ultimately becomes plaque, clogging your arteries and raising your risk of stroke.

Studies have also linked flavonoids to diabetes management. One such study showed that in people with Type 2 diabetes, adding a flavonoid-rich spice mix to their hamburger meat greatly improved their vascular function. Diabetes can damage your blood vessels, which could raise your risk of heart disease.

Moreover, flavonoids’ anti-inflammatory properties help reduce your risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Flavonoids also keep your mental faculties sharp by increasing blood flow to your brain. A 2007 study showed that older adults who ate more foods rich in flavonoids had better cognitive performance than their peers who ate less of those foods.

Sources:

MedicalNewsToday.com

LiveScience.com

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