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Vegans protected against cancer?

Scientists finds out the answer why fruit-eaters and vegans may gain protection against the spread of cancers.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 13, 2008 19:54 IST

Scientists have found a possible explanation for why fruit-eaters and vegans may gain protection against the spread of cancers.

They have shown that a fragment released from pectin, found in all fruits and vegetables, binds to and is believed to inhibit galectin 3 (Gal3), a protein that plays a role in all stages of cancer progression.

"Most claims for the anti-cancer effects of foods are based on population studies," said Vic Morris from the Institute of Food Research. "For this research, we tested a molecular mechanism and showed that it is viable."

Population studies such as EPIC, the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer, identified a strong link between eating lots of fibre and a lower risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. But exactly how fibre exerts a protective effect is unknown.

Pectin is better known for its jam-setting qualities and as being a component of dietary fibre. The present study supports a more exciting and subtle role, according to a release of Norwich BioScience Institutes.

Interaction between dietary carbohydrates and mammalian proteins, of which this research is an example, may provide an explanation. Other food carbohydrates such as beta glucans are considered to be bioactive and their anti-cancer action can be attributed to different types of carbohydrate - mammalian protein interactions.

"For a whole combination of different effects, it is best to consistently eat a range of fruits, vegetables and high-fibre foods," said Morris. "You don't necessarily have to eat a superfood."

The next stage of Morris' research is to identify how pectin can be taken up by the body and released so it can exert its effect on cancer cells.

First Published: Oct 13, 2008 17:27 IST