UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Enjoying a diet that includes plenty of vegetables is great for your health, but a daily dose of purple potatoes may help in the prevention colon cancer, according to a new study conducted on pigs.
Understanding the compounds found in these foods and how they break down in the digestive tract could be crucial for finding new colon cancer treatments, researchers say.
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University found that a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables may prevent or stop colon cancer and bowel inflammatory diseases in pigs.
“What we are learning is that food is a double-edge sword — it may promote disease, but it may also help prevent chronic diseases, like colon cancer,” says Jairam K.P. Vanamala, associate professor of food sciences at PSU, in a news release. “What we don’t know is, ‘how does this food work on the molecular level?’ This study is a step in that direction.”
The researchers gave a group of pigs a high-calorie diet with purple-fleshed potatoes added and compared levels of colonic mucosal interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 is a protein crucial for inflammation to occur in the intestine, and high levels of it are associated with high levels of proteins linked to the growth and spread of cancer cells in the colon.
Vanamala and his team were able to posit that whole foods containing macronutrients — nutrients the human body needs in large amounts — may alter the IL-6 pathway and cut the production of potentially cancerous proteins. The researchers added that the addition of vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids — phytonutrients found in colorful fruits and vegetables –have a positive effect as well.
IL-6 levels were six times lower in pigs that were fed the diet rich with the purple potatoes than a group given a standard diet and another given a high-calorie diet without the vegetables.
Though the study focused on purple potatoes, the authors say that other colorful vegetables may be just as protective against colon cancer.
“For example, white potatoes may have helpful compounds, but the purple potatoes have much greater concentrations of these anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant compounds,” says Vanamala. “We use the purple potato as a model and hope to investigate how other plants can be used in the future.”
The full study was published in the journal Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.