Allium vegetables and organosulfur compounds: do they help prevent cancer?

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Sep;109(9):893-902. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109893.


Allium vegetables have been shown to have beneficial effects against several diseases, including cancer. Garlic, onions, leeks, and chives have been reported to protect against stomach and colorectal cancers, although evidence for a protective effect against cancer at other sites, including the breast, is still insufficient. The protective effect appears to be related to the presence of organosulfur compounds and mainly allyl derivatives, which inhibit carcinogenesis in the forestomach, esophagus, colon, mammary gland, and lung of experimental animals. The exact mechanisms of the cancer-preventive effects are not clear, although several hypotheses have been proposed. Organosulfur compounds modulate the activity of several metabolizing enzymes that activate (cytochrome P450s) or detoxify (glutathione S-transferases) carcinogens and inhibit the formation of DNA adducts in several target tissues. Antiproliferative activity has been described in several tumor cell lines, which is possibly mediated by induction of apoptosis and alterations of the cell cycle. Allium vegetables and organosulfur compounds are thus possible cancer-preventive agents. Clinical trials will be required to define the effective dose that has no toxicity in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allium*
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Chemoprevention*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Organic Chemicals / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Sulfur Compounds / pharmacology
  • Vegetables*


  • Carcinogens
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Plant Extracts
  • Sulfur Compounds