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Sauerkraut packed with cancer-fighting compounds

Sauerkraut packed with cancer-fighting compounds

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Fermented cabbage--otherwise known as sauerkraut--could be even healthier to eat than raw or cooked cabbage, Finnish researchers report.

The investigators found that fermenting cabbage produced a number of different compounds, known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown in test tube and animal studies to prevent the growth of cancer, especially in the breast, colon, lung and liver. Isothiocyanates are found in many foods, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, and wasabi, a pungent Japanese condiment.

Whether isothiocyanates have similar effects in humans, however, is not clear.

In the current study in the October 23rd issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers analyzed compounds in white cabbage that had been fermented to sauerkraut. Raw cabbage is rich in glucosinolates, another class of cancer-fighting compounds.

According to their experiment, the fermentation process breaks glucosinolate down into isothiocynates and other compounds that may fight cancer. Previous studies have found that isothiocyanates encourage precancerous cells in the digestive system to self-destruct, a process known as apoptosis.

"Our study implies that fermented cabbage can be a good source of plant-derived bioactive compounds such as breakdown products of glucosinolates," Dr. Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

"Some of these compounds have shown anticarcinogenic effects in vivo in animal models. To show the anticarcinogenic effects of sauerkraut in humans, clinical studies (in humans) are required," added Ryhanen, from MTT Agrifood Research Finland in Jokioinen.

She said the research team is now investigating ways to optimize the fermentation process so that sauerkraut could be even healthier.

SOURCE: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2002 October.

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