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F.ood & H.ealth : F.ood C.hemicals Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Plant Compounds Continue to Challenge Science
Jun 24, 2006, 11:07

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AICR Releases New Brochure on Phytochemical Theory

WASHINGTON, DC – The one thing on which all nutritionists seem to agree is that consumption of vegetables and fruit helps fight many chronic diseases. Researchers trying to discover just how these plant food bolster our immune systems have focused for some time on phytochemicals.

“It is often said that phytochemicals are to the twenty-first century what vitamins were to the twentieth. Just as the intensive study of vitamins led to a new understanding of nutrition so research on phytochemicals will lead to a new science of prevention through diet,” said AICR Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, RD.

That is why AICR has just released a new brochure which explains phytochemical theory in laymen’s terms. Part of its “Concepts in Cancer” series, the new brochure explains an idea that many have heard of but few fully understand.

Phytochemicals are chemical compounds whose primary function is to provide protective coloring, odor, texture, or taste to the plants in which they are found. When ingested, they have a demonstrable effect on the chemical processes in humans.

Scientists have identified thousands of phytochemicals in plant foods, and many seem to be involved in protecting our bodies against disease. It is estimated, for instance, that a diet rich in phytochemicals can reduce cancer risk by 20 percent.

“Many people who know a little about phytochemicals are waiting to hear about the one compound which, taken in large doses, will cure whatever ails them. Is it lycopene, beta carotene, or resveratrol? In fact, research seems to indicate that phytochemicals work together to boost our immune system,” Collins said.

Phytochemicals work together in several senses. They may have an additive effect; that is, two or more performing the same function at the same time get more done. They may have a synergistic effect; that is, two enhance each other’s performance far beyond the capacity of each acting alone.

“There is a third way in which these compounds work together. Many different phytochemicals in different plants perform the same function. If you don’t have access to one or your body can’t utilize it, you can obtain the same effect from another. So you benefit by eating a great variety of plant foods containing a great variety of phytochemicals,” said Collins.

Perhaps the best known function of phytochemicals is elimination of free radicals that can cause DNA damage leading to cancer. In fact, phytochemicals act in at least eight different ways we know of to reduce cancer risk. These ways range from causing spontaneous cancer cell death (apoptosis) to regulating hormones.

What is known about phytochemicals derives from two kinds of research: population studies showing that people who eat more plant foods have less cancer and laboratory studies showing how chemical compounds in plants affect the progression of cancer.

Scientists are now attempting to verify phytochemical theory through human studies. This phase of the research is moving slowly because long-term intervention and observational studies are notoriously difficult to conduct in regard to diet.

Experts at AICR believe that when research methodology is fine-tuned and models for studying the effect of multiple chemicals simultaneously are perfected, the anticancer activity of phytochemicals will be demonstrated. Meanwhile, they recommend eating a mostly plant-based diet affording a great variety of phytochemicals in order to fight chronic disease and to manage weight.

The full text of A Closer Look at Phytochemicals can be read, downloaded, or ordered at A single copy can also be ordered at no charge by calling 1-800-843-8114, ext. 456, between (9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $78 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International

For Immediate Release: June 23, 2006 Contact: Glen Weldon, 202-328-7744 x312 Jeff Prince, 202-328-7744 x 221

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