Smokers, Eat Your Spinach! It May Fight Off Cancer

Here’s another fascinating new study which affirms yet again how important those leafy green veggies are. This time the focus was on smokers and their risks for cancers. This study followed a cohort of smokers and collected data on diet, then they analyzed their DNA for changes in 8 genes that are strongly connected to lung and other cancers. The idea is called methylation; this is a chemical change in the genes that start the long pathway to mutations and cancers. The process usually takes many years and involves many steps, but tobacco clearly increases the methylation steps.

The findings? Those who ate the most leafy green vegetables as well as those who had high levels of folic acid, plus those who ate multivitamins had decreases in their methylation rates. No, we cannot automatically say from this study that this means they’ll get less cancers — but the underlying science is strong, and the methylation-cancer theory is well regarded. Here are some good quotes from the Medscape review of the original article:

“There was a dose response with consumption of vegetables and sustained vitamin use, and increased duration was associated with better protection,” observed Dr. Belinsky. “Multivitamins and leafy green vegetables have things other than folate, although that is the common link, and…the amount of folate varies by multivitamin and vegetable, so I don’t know that there is a simple yes or no answer [regarding dose dependence],” he said.

The report summarizes their findings: “Green leafy vegetables were the only food item in this analysis to exhibit protection against methylation status.” In addition, the use of multivitamins, which supply many of the same substances as leafy green vegetables, had a significant protective effect.

Should all smokers be told to increase their intake of spinach and kale? “Our findings certainly support yes for smokers,” said Dr. Belinsky. “Most cancers arise through inactivating genes by methylation, so I don’t think consumption of leafy green vegetables and a multivitamin would do anything negative, and it could help.” He noted, however, that further studies are needed to validate their findings.

The Bottom Line

Don’t ever start smoking! And if you do smoke, try again and again and again to stop. In the meantime, eat your veggies, especially the leafy green types — and add a multivitamin just to be safe. But keep trying to quit. Always. Did you know that the average smoker attempts to quit 7 times before they really stop? Did you also know there are some new ways for docs to help you stop smoking? We’ll talk more about this soon…

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