A review of mechanisms underlying anticarcinogenicity by brassica vegetables

Chem Biol Interact. 1997 Feb 28;103(2):79-129. doi: 10.1016/s0009-2797(96)03745-3.


The mechanisms by which brassica vegetables might decrease the risk of cancer are reviewed in this paper. Brassicas, including all types of cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, may be protective against cancer due to their relatively high glucosinolate content. Glucosinolates are usually broken down through hydrolysis catalyzed by myrosinase, an enzyme that is released from damaged plant cells. Some of the hydrolysis products, viz. indoles and isothiocyanates, are able to influence phase 1 and phase 2 biotransformation enzyme activities, thereby possibly influencing several processes related to chemical carcinogenesis, e.g. the metabolism, DNA-binding and mutagenic activity of promutagens. A reducing effect on tumor formation has been shown in rats and mice. The anticarcinogenic action of isothiocyanates and indoles depends upon many factors, such as the test system, the target tissue, the type of carcinogen challenge and the anticarcinogenic compound, their dosage, as well as the timing of the treatment. Most evidence concerning anticarcinogenic effects of glucosinolate hydrolysis products and brassica vegetables has come from studies in animals. Animal studies are invaluable in identifying and testing potential anticarcinogens. In addition, studies carried out in humans using high but still realistic human consumption levels of indoles and brassica vegetables have shown putative positive effects on health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Brassica*
  • Glucosinolates / chemistry
  • Glucosinolates / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Glucosinolates
  • Plant Extracts