Cabbage Cure No Joke

Cabbage may be at the heart of why the breast cancer risk of Polish women triples after they immigrate to the United States, rising to match the rate of U.S.-born women, investigators reported today.

Young women who eat four or more servings per week of raw or lightly cooked cabbage -- such as coleslaw or steamed sauerkraut -- may significantly reduce their risk of breast cancer later in life, according to results of a study led by Dorothy R. Pathak, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico. That's the way they do it in Poland.

Compared with women who ate 1.5 servings or less of cabbage per week during adolescence, those who ate four or more servings were 72% less likely to develop breast cancer as adults, Dr. Pathak and colleagues reported here today at the American Association for Cancer Research's annual cancer prevention meeting. Cabbage contains anti-carcinogenic glucosinolates and myrosinase enzymes.

Women who consumed low amounts of cabbage in their teens could still derive some protective benefit from cabbage if they increased their consumption during adulthood, the investigators said.

The study included hundreds of Polish women and Polish-born women in the United States who are part of the Polish Women's Health Study, a case-control breast cancer study. Participants were given a food frequency questionnaire that assessed their cabbage consumption when they were 12 to 13 years old and as adults.

Because cooking denatures the myrosinase enzyme and reduces the bioavailability of glucosinolates, cabbage foods were categorized as raw (raw sauerkraut and fresh cabbage), short-cooked (steamed sauerkraut and cabbage), and long-cooked (hunter's stew, cabbage rolls, and pierogi).

The women were categorized as low consumers (1.5 servings per week or less), moderate consumers (1.5 to 3 servings per week), and high consumers (more than 3 servings per week). The protective effect was found only for raw and short-cooked cabbage, not long-cooked, which was eliminated from the analysis.

Compared with low consumers during adolescence, the odds ratio for developing breast cancer for adults who were high cabbage consumers during adolescence was 0.28 (95% confidence interval not given; P<.05). This protective effect remained regardless of cabbage consumption during adulthood.

Moderate cabbage consumers during adolescence could still reduce their risk if they became high consumers during adulthood (OR=0.27; P<.05). Even low consumers during adolescence appeared to reduce their risk by becoming high consumers as adults (OR=0.37; P=0.15), although this finding was not statistically significant.

The study indicates that "increased consumption of cabbage/sauerkraut foods in adolescence and adulthood may be an important primary prevention for breast cancer," the investigators concluded.


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