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The allium family of vegetables, which includes onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions, adds more than just flavor to your diet; its members also add anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant compounds. Even far back in history, people were well aware that these foods had medicinal value and consumed them on a daily basis. In medieval times, for example, people recognized that onions and garlic offered immune protection and would help them get well faster in the event that they did come down with an infection. We have lost touch with using food as medicine, but the right natural foods are truly our most effective remedies.
Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption of allium vegetables is associated with lower risk of cancer at all common sites. This protection is thought to be due to their organosulfur compounds, which are released when the vegetables are chopped, crushed, or chewed. Similar to the green cruciferous family, the cell walls of onions house an enzyme called alliinase, which is responsible for making that sulfuric acid smell that can make you cry. At the same time the chemical reaction is occurring on your kitchen counter and smarting your eyes, those immune-building sulfide compounds are forming.
New research suggests that these organosulfur compounds in members of the onion family also have anti-inflammatory actions that protect against osteoarthritis and ward off infections. When we eat the organosulfur compounds and glycoproteins in onions, those compounds work together with other micronutrients to improve immune function and to prevent disease. In fact, when onion intake was scrutinized in a case-controlled multicountry study, the highest consumers of onions had less than half as many cancers compared to people who rarely consumed onions.
Pomegranates and Berries: Superheroes in Disguise
The pomegranate is a unique ancient fruit borne on a small, long-living tree cultivated throughout Asia and the Mediterranean region, as far north as the Himalayas. As a result of the increasing recognition of its health benefits, it is now also grown in California and elsewhere in the southern United States.
In the past decade, numerous studies on the antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties of pomegranates have been published, focusing on the treatment and prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance, and ultraviolet radiation–induced skin damage.
The juice and seeds of the pomegranate possess potent antioxidant and anticancer properties, including interference with tumor cell proliferation, cell cycle invasion, and angiogenesis. The phytochemistry of pomegranates suggests a wide range of clinical applications for the treatment and prevention of cancer, as well as other diseases in which chronic inflammation is believed to play an essential role.
Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants such as soluble polyphenols, tannins, and anthocyanins, and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-atherosclerotic properties in mice and humans.
Colorful berries have beneficial effects similar to those of pomegranates. Consider the following research: after exposure to a chemical carcinogen that damages DNA in rats, the animals were fed dried blackberries and showed a transformation of the damaged genes back to near normal; the effects were just as marked as the benefits from cruciferous greens.
The model of exposing rats to chemical carcinogens and then giving them berries has been repeated in many other studies as well, and exposure to berries or berry concentrates repeatedly shows a reduction in the occurrence of cancer at multiple sites, including esophagus, colon, and oral cancers.
Similarly, when rats were implanted with estrogen to produce mammary tumors, blueberry and raspberry intake was able to limit the development of the tumors to begin with, and once tumors were induced, the berry extracts reduced tumor size. The idea of berries as anticarcinogens was first conceived in the late 1980s, when scientists discovered that ellagic acid, found in many fruits and vegetables, inhibited the formations of tumors.
They then found that berries contained markedly high amounts of ellagic acid, and that black raspberries in particular had the most among berries and fruits. Later it was found that berries also contained many other anticancer phytochemical compounds, such as an assortment of anthocyanins with powerful anticancer effects