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Vegetables and soy combats cancer

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"Soya consumption has been cited as one reason why breast and prostate cancer rates in Asia are so much lower than in the West."

3:16am (UK)
Scientists Name 'Cancer Combat' Foods

By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News

Foods that may combat cancer can be found at a glance using a new Internet list developed by scientists.

Researchers in Scotland spent three years compiling almost 7,000 food items that have undergone rigorous scientific tests.

The website shows which foods contain high levels of phyto-oestrogens – plant hormones that are thought by many experts to protect against breast and prostate cancer.

Soya and and soya-based vegetarian meat substitutes contain especially high levels of the compounds.

But they are also found in wholemeal bread, multigrains, nuts, pulses, some vegetables and fruits, and raisins.

Some studies suggest that teenagers and young adults who consume relatively large amounts of phyto-oestrogens are less likely to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer in middle age.

There is also evidence that phyto-oestrogens offer men similar protection against prostate cancer.

Dr Margaret Ritchie, from the School of Biology at St Andrew’s University, who led the project, said: “Put simply, we’re pinpointing foods which you can introduce to your diet – or that of your teenage son or daughter – so they can build up cancer protection in later life.”

As well as being available to the general public, the database is aimed at researchers working in areas such as public health, chemistry and medicine.

It has already been used in Scotland’s largest breast cancer study, led by scientists at the University of Aberdeen and targeting women with the most aggressive form of the disease.

Soya consumption has been cited as one reason why breast and prostate cancer rates in Asia are so much lower than in the West.

The dramatic difference can be seen in the latest figures from the World Health Organisation, published in 2000.

They show that breast cancer affects 90.4 women per 100,000 in the US and Canada, but only 18.1 in East Asia.

While 102.2 men per 100,000 are diagnosed with prostate cancer in North America, a mere 3.4 cases per 100,000 occur in East Asia.

However the evidence that phyto-oestrogens guard against cancer is not conclusive, and scientists are still investigating the theory.

Dr Tim Key, from Cancer Research UK’s epidemiology unit at Oxford University, said: “The possibility that high intakes of phyto-oestrogens might reduce the risk for some types of cancer is an interesting hypothesis, but so far the results of studies of this relationship in humans are not consistent, and no protective effect has been established.”

A spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, which represents nutrition experts, “Phyto-oestrogens mimic the effect of the hormone oestrogen in the body.

“Overall the research into their health benefits isn’t conclusive – many different factors affect cancer and its very difficult to disentangle them. But the foods that contain these compounds are very healthy in their own right. Eating these foods isn’t going to do you any harm and might do you some good.”

The database lists almost 7,000 food items, from abalone to Yorkshire pudding (neither of which contain phyto-oestrogens).

Levels of phyto-oestrogen above 300 micrograms per 100 grams of food are said to be “high”.

The food with the highest levels is soya low fat flour, which contains 211,700 micrograms of the compounds

Next is raw soya beans, with 142,100 micrograms of phyto-oestrogen.

Other examples of foods with high phyto-oestrogen levels are: miso, a soybean paste used in Japanese cooking (126,500mg), soya beanburger fried in vegetable oil (2,780mg), “Not Bacon” and “Not Ham” meat substitute (21,520mg), multigrain crisp bread (1,187mg), vegetarian sausages (26,300), and cheese and tomato pizza (630mg).

The database can be seen on-line at Users have to register first with the University of St Andrews.

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