People may need to take a cue from bunnies to reap the benefits of a natural cancer fighter: carrots.
Researchers have isolated a compound in carrots that may be largely responsible for their anticancer benefits. Rats fed either the compound, called falcarinol (search), or raw carrots in addition to their normal food had a one-third lower risk of developing colorectal cancer (search) than rats not fed them.
"We already know that carrots are good for us and can reduce the risk of cancer, but until now we have not known which element of the vegetable has these special properties," says researcher Kirsten Brandt, of Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (search) in England, in a news release.
"We now need to take it a step further by finding out how much falcarinol is needed to prevent the development of cancer and if certain types of carrot are better than others, as there are many varieties in existence, of different shapes, colors and sizes," says Brandt.
Carrots' Cancer-Fighting Chemical
Researchers say it's well known from previous studies that people who eat a large quantity of fruits and vegetables tend to have a lower risk of cancer. But it's still unclear exactly which components of these foods are responsible for the anticancer effects.
In this study, researchers examined the possible role of falcarinol in preventing cancer. Falcarinol is a natural pesticide found in carrots that protects carrots from fungal diseases. In the human diet, carrots are virtually the only source of this compound.
Researchers divided 24 male rats with precancerous colorectal tumors into three groups and fed them three different diets: standard rat food plus 10 percent freeze-dried carrots, standard food plus falcarinol (in an amount equal to that found in carrots), or standard rat food alone.
After 18 weeks, the study showed that rats who ate carrots or the falcarinol-fortified food were one-third less likely to develop full-scale colorectal cancer tumors than those fed standard food.
The results of the study appear in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Researchers say the experiment was carried out using raw carrots, and they don't know if eating boiled carrots or drinking carrot juice would have the same anticancer effects.
"For consumers, it may soon no longer be a case of advising them to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day but to eat particular types of these in certain quantities," says Brandt. "The research could also lead to more tailored advice for growers regarding the methods they should use when growing vegetables."
By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
SOURCES: Larsen, M. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Feb. 9, 2005; vol 53: pp 812-815. News release, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.