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"Designer" foods: tomorrow's answer to breast cancer prevention?

BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Epicures may call it the "stinking rose," but garlic by any other name will still carry that heady aroma -- potent enough to keep vampires -- and perhaps even a disease or two -- at bay.

Selenium-enriched garlic is just one of the "designer foods" being tested as a cancer preventative by Clement Ip, Ph.D., a breast cancer researcher in Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Division of Breast Surgery, Department of Surgical Oncology. These days, Dr. Ip's laboratory smells like an Italian restaurant.

In one recent study, Dr. Ip discovered that garlic -- enriched by the anticancer agent selenium -- protected animals against breast tumors.

Selenium -- a non-metallic element that resembles sulfur -- has been Dr. Ip's major research interest over the last 15 years. "My studies and those of others have shown that selenium protects against breast cancer. My goal has been to find the best ways to incorporate sufficient quantities of selenium safely into foods."

His choice of garlic is a natural. The vegetable is abundantly rich in sulfur. Several of the sulfur-containing agents in garlic are responsible not only for the flavor and pungency of the "stinking rose," but also for its moderate anticancer activity. "Plants convert inorganic selenium in soil to organic selenium analogs of naturally occurring sulfur compounds," said Dr. Ip. "By substituting sulfur with selenium, we had hoped to produce more powerful anticancer agents in garlic."

The selenium-enriched garlic was far superior to regular garlic in suppressing breast cancer in laboratory tests. "Our research shows that by incorporating selenium into a plant that is already rich in sulfur, the potential for cancer protection is significantly enhanced," noted Dr. Ip. "However, more research needs to be conducted on the application -- and implications -- of cultivating crops or vegetables in a selenium-fertilized medium."

On the basis of preliminary but encouraging laboratory tests, Dr. Ip believes that conjugated lineolic acid (CLA) will be tomorrow's strong bet for reducing -- through foods -- one's susceptibility to breast cancer. Right now, he says, there are a few questions that need answers. "If we can further characterize the action of CLA and explain how it works, there is a good possibility that CLA-enriched foods will serve as the prototype of a new generation of designer foods."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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