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Anticancer phytonutrients

Phytonutrients (phytochemicals) are substances discovered in certain plants. According to nutritionists and public health experts, phytonutrients are very useful for human health and they can prevent various diseases. Phytonutrients are very specific chemical compounds that give fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, teas, legumes and spices their color. Health experts believe that darker colored fruits and vegetables have higher concentrations of essential phytochemicals.

According to nutritionists, daily diet should include variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables as well as beans and peas. This type of diet can protect against the development of heart disease, stroke and several chronic degenerative diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis) due to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Special attention is paid to anticancer ability of phytonutrients – they play very important role in cancer prevention by causing cancer cells to die (so called “apoptosis”), repairing DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxic exposures and by detoxifying carcinogens through activation of enzyme systems.

Phytochemicals are necessary for survival – they protect us from UV radiation, viruses, bacteria, insects and parasites. Phytonutrients’ mechanism of action based on its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties (abilities).

Phytonutrients health benefits

Phytonutrients health benefits are well known – they are “silent soldiers” responsible for anticancer and anti-inflammatory fights. Health experts believe that different types of inflammation contribute to the development of several dangerous chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Nutritionists recommend consumption of five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruits daily.


Scientists identified about 900 types of phytonutrients and about 5000 different phytochemicals which can be grouped in five main clasters:

  • carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene);
  • phenolics (ellagic acid, quercetin, luteolin, epicatechin, hesperitin, malvidin, genisten);
  • alkaloids (nitrogen-containing compounds);
  • organosulfur compounds (indoles, glucosinolates).

Anticancer phytonutrients

Some experts suggest that phytonutrients can be as effective as anticancer chemotherapy and radiation. This opinion is based on over thirty years of research which demonstrated certain phytonutrients are incredible cancer fighters – unlike traditional medical treatment methods, they kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells and in addition, they can prevent recurrence far more effectively. According to scientific studies, anticancer phytonutrients target cancer stem cells which are the “leaders and controllers” of cancer cell colonies.

Main anticancer phytonutrints:

Phytonutrients Foods
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) Green tea extracts
Curcumin Turmeric roots
Resveratrol Grapes (preferably black or dark), plums, berries, peanuts, Japanese knotweed
Lycopene Grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, pomegranate extracts
Luteolin – Peppers, various green vegetables
Genistein (Flavonoids) – Soy, red clover, coffee
Isothiocyanates – Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green leafy vegetables)
Piperine – Black pepper
β-Carotene Carrots, Leafy Greens
Delphinidin – Blueberry, raspberry
Vitamin D3 Fish, egg yolk, beef, cod liver oil
Sulforaphane – Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green leafy vegetables)
Linalool – Mint
Perylill alcohol – Mint, cherry, lavender
Quercetin – Capers, onion
Ursolic acid – Thyme, basil, oregano

In this article some materials were used from publication developed by Emanuele-Salvatore Scarpa and Paolino Ninfali (published in July 2015).

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