Cruciferous vegetables: cancer protective mechanisms of glucosinolate hydrolysis products and selenium

Integr Cancer Ther. 2004 Mar;3(1):5-12. doi: 10.1177/1534735403261831.


Dietetic professionals urge Americans to increase fruit and vegetable intakes. The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that if the only dietary change made was to increase the daily intake of fruits and vegetables to 5 servings per day, cancer rates could decline by as much as 20%. Among the reasons cited for this health benefit are that fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain nonnutritive components that may provide substantial health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Examples of the latter are the glucosinolate hydrolysis products, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol. Epidemiological studies provide evidence that the consumption of cruciferous vegetables protects against cancer more effectively than the total intake of fruits and vegetables. This review describes the anticarcinogenic bioactivities of glucosinolate hydrolysis products, the mineral selenium derived from crucifers, and the mechanisms by which they protect against cancer. These mechanisms include altered estrogen metabolism, protection against reactive oxygen species, altered detoxification by induction of phase II enzymes, decreased carcinogen activation by inhibition of phase I enzymes, and slowed tumor growth and induction of apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Brassicaceae / chemistry*
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Glucosinolates / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Selenium / pharmacology*
  • Vegetables


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Carcinogens
  • Estrogens
  • Glucosinolates
  • Plant Extracts
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Selenium