Nine types of cancer-fighting greens

Higher intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is known to reduce the risk of cancer with available evidence from more than thirty years of research [1]. Green vegetables, particularly, are an integral part of any anti-cancer diet, and were found to have protective effects against cancers in many studies [2]. Green vegetables are nutritionally rich, with plant fibers, chlorophyll, and folic acid (vitamin B-9) being the common substances that have been shown to possess various forms of chemopreotective effects [2].

Different types of green vegetables further contain different phytochemicals that can help to fight cancer cells. As such, many commercially marketed super greens dietary supplements are formulated with a variety of green vegetables.

Here are nine types of greens with their unique cancer-fighting ability:

1. Asparagus

In laboratory tests, saponins extracted from the asparagus shoots were found to inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells [3], induce cell death in human liver cancer cells [4], as well as suppress cell viability of breast, colon and pancreatic cancers [5].

2. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts

Sulforaphane is the main chemical derived from ingestion of broccoli and broccoli sprouts that have been shown to possess strong anti-tumor activities. Current research suggests that sulforaphane can intervene with the multi-stage carcinogenesis, which is the process that convert normal cells to cancer cells [6].

3. Spinach

Glycoglycerolipids derived from spinach has been shown to possess the ability to inhibit the replication of DNA in tumor cells, leading to its anti-cancer effect [7]. It has also been demonstrated in an animal study that glycoglycerolipids from spinach suppressed colon tumor growth in mice.

4. Kale and the cabbage family

Glucosinolates from the brassica family of vegetables (informally known as cruciferous vegetables, cabbages, or mustard plants) are associated with cancer-preventive activity [8]. Glucosinolate hydrolysis products (Isothiocyanates and indoles) can alter the metabolism or activity of sex hormones in ways that could inhibit the development of hormone-sensitive cancers, including breast and prostate cancers. Epidemiological studies (i.e. studies based on patterns in specific populations) also shown that high consumption of brassica family of vegetables is associated with reduced risk of lung, colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer risk [9].

5. Barley grass

Barley grasses are the new sprouts of barley which contain a wide range of nutrients and plant hormones [10]. The chemical composition of barley grasses is still not clear, but barley grass extract has been shown to possess a strong anti-tumor activity by accelerating cancer cell death through increasing intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species [11].

6. Wheat grass

A wide range of health benefits has been attributed to wheat grass, which is the young grass of the common wheat plant. Wheat grass products are normally rich in chlorophyll, flavonoids, and vitamins C and E. Clinical trials have shown that wheat grass can work synergistically with chemotherapy to reduce side-effects [12].

7. Green onion, chives, and leeks

These are the greens from the Allium genus or garlic family. Epidemiological studies indicate associations of Allium vegetable consumption with a decreased risk of cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (including stomach, esophageal, colorectal), as well as prostate cancer). The bioactive sulphur compounds in these vegetables are thought to be responsible for their cancer preventive mechanisms.

8. Alfalfa sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts are rich in L-canavanine, a type of non-protein amino acid that has demonstrated anti-cancer activity against a number of cancer cells [12], as well as improving the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic drugs [13].

9. Spirulina

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae used as a dietary supplement. While it is most noted for its cholesterol lowering effect, it is also rich in tetrapyrrolic compounds closely related to bilirubin molecule, a potent antioxidant that has been tested to able to stop the proliferation of cancer cells [14].

So, make sure that you eat a whole bunch of these greens each day to make you cancer-free.


[1]         T.J. Key, Fruit and vegetables and cancer risk., Br. J. Cancer. 104 (2011) 6–11. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6606032.

[2]         M.S. Donaldson, Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet., Nutr. J. 3 (2004) 19. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-19.

[3]         Y. Shao, C.K. Chin, C.T. Ho, W. Ma, S.A. Garrison, M.T. Huang, Anti-tumor activity of the crude saponins obtained from asparagus., Cancer Lett. 104 (1996) 31–6.

[4]         Y. Ji, C. Ji, L. Yue, H. Xu, Saponins isolated from Asparagus induce apoptosis in human hepatoma cell line HepG2 through a mitochondrial-mediated pathway., Curr. Oncol. 19 (2012) eS1-9. doi:10.3747/co.19.1139.

[5]         J. Wang, Y. Liu, J. Zhao, W. Zhang, X. Pang, Saponins extracted from by-product of  Asparagus officinalis  L. suppress tumour cell migration and invasion through targeting Rho GTPase signalling pathway, J. Sci. Food Agric. 93 (2013) 1492–1498. doi:10.1002/jsfa.5922.

[6]         S.M. Tortorella, S.G. Royce, P. V Licciardi, T.C. Karagiannis, Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition., Antioxid. Redox Signal. 22 (2015) 1382–424. doi:10.1089/ars.2014.6097.

[7]         N. Maeda, K. Matsubara, H. Yoshida, Y. Mizushina, Anti-cancer effect of spinach glycoglycerolipids as angiogenesis inhibitors based on the selective inhibition of DNA polymerase activity., Mini Rev. Med. Chem. 11 (2011) 32–8.

[8]         C. Hahn, A. Müller, N. Kuhnert, D. Albach, Diversity of Kale ( Brassica oleracea var. sabellica): Glucosinolate Content and Phylogenetic Relationships, J. Agric. Food Chem. 64 (2016) 3215–3225. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.6b01000.

[9]         J. V Higdon, B. Delage, D.E. Williams, R.H. Dashwood, Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis., Pharmacol. Res. 55 (2007) 224–36. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.009.

[10]      C. Mannion, S. Page, L.H. Bell, M. Verhoef, Components of an anticancer diet: dietary recommendations, restrictions and supplements of the Bill Henderson Protocol., Nutrients. 3 (2011) 1–26. doi:10.3390/nu3010001.

[11]      S.M. Woo, S.-C. Kwon, S.G. Ko, S.-G. Cho, Barley grass extract causes apoptosis of cancer cells by increasing intracellular reactive oxygen species production., Biomed. Reports. 6 (2017) 681–685. doi:10.3892/br.2017.897.

[12]      G. Bar-Sela, M. Cohen, E. Ben-Arye, R. Epelbaum, The Medical Use of Wheatgrass: Review of the Gap Between Basic and Clinical Applications., Mini Rev. Med. Chem. 15 (2015) 1002–10.

[13]      A.D. Nurcahyanti, M. Wink, L-Canavanine potentiates the cytotoxicity of doxorubicin and cisplatin in arginine deprived human cancer cells, PeerJ. 4 (2016) e1542. doi:10.7717/peerj.1542.

[14]      R. Koníčková, K. Vaňková, J. Vaníková, K. Váňová, L. Muchová, I. Subhanová, M. Zadinová, J. Zelenka, A. Dvořák, M. Kolář, H. Strnad, S. Rimpelová, T. Ruml, R. J Wong, L. Vítek, Anti-cancer effects of blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrolic compounds., Ann. Hepatol. 13 (n.d.) 273–83.

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