A new study claims that chemicals produced by certain vegetables, such as kale, cabbage, and broccoli, could help people maintain healthy guts and even avoid colon cancer altogether.

The notion that vegetables are good for the digestive system has never been repudiated, but until now, scientists have never been able to provide a clear reason why these foods are beneficial to gut health.

A Diet Rich In I3C Is Good For The Gut

In a trial involving mice, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute discovered that anti-cancer chemicals were produced as the said vegetables were digested. This chemical, more specifically, is called indole-3-carbinol, produced when a person digests vegetables from the Brassica genus.

The study, published in the Immunity journal, is the first to provide concrete evidence of how I3C can prevent colon inflammation and cancer by activating a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, also called the AhR.

AhR plays the role of a so-called environmental sensor, sending signals to immune cells and epithelial cells in the gut to protect it from inflammatory responses to bacteria.

"We studied genetically modified mice that cannot produce or activate AhR in their guts, and found that they readily developed gut inflammation which progressed to colon cancer," said Amina Metidji, one of the study's authors.

When the mice were fed a diet enriched with I3C, they failed to develop colon inflammation or cancer, according to the researchers. Even more notable was the fact that mice whose cancers had already been developing saw fewer tumors when they switched to a diet with I3C.

The researchers concluded that AhR is crucial for the repair of damaged epithelial cells. Without it, stem cells in the intestine fail to differentiate into specialized epithelial cells that absorb nutrients or generate protective mucus. So they divide uncontrollably instead, which then ups the chances of developing colon cancer.

Now On To Real People

Because of the positive findings, the researchers are now hoping to perform trials on actual humans or at least do them in organoids made from human gut biopsies initially. A number of studies have claimed that vegetables may protect one from colon cancer, but there has been little, if any, advice on exactly which vegetables. The researchers aim to investigate the effects of eating vegetables on gut health — in human cells and people next time. In the meantime, Gitta Stockinger, Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, says eating more vegetables certainly wouldn't hurt.

So start munching on kale, broccoli, cabbages, and other leafy vegetables — it might just save you from one of the most common cancers in the country.

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