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Health benefits of cabbage, other cruciferous vegetables, and fermented foods

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Can cabbage help prevent cervical cancer? Did your grandmother always tell you to "eat up your greens"? It appears that she may have known something scientists are only now discovering. When the substances produced in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, sprouts or cauliflower are eaten, they could help in the fight against cancer.

A research team headed by Professor Alison Fiander, Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the Wales College Of Medicine, Cardiff University in the UK a few years ago asked women in Wales to help find out if one of these substances holds the key to cancer prevention, according to the November 15, 2004 news release, " Can cabbage help prevent cervical cancer?"

A clinical trial took place back in 2004 to determine whether taking this substance as a food supplement reduces the incidence of cervical abnormalities. The supplement is called BioResponse Diindolylmethane (DIM for short) and seems to exert its effect by modifying the breakdown products of estrogen in the body and by inducing abnormal cells to self destruct.

To obtain enough DIM to benefit, at least two raw heads of cabbage would need to be eaten daily

The trial uses a capsule containing DIM, already available as a herbal remedy in the United States. The makers of this capsule in America also claim that it may help with pre-menstrual syndrome but side effects include aggravation of migraines and an increase in intestinal gas. So who would want to take a supplement to get more painful migraines and bowel gas at the same time? Not many.

Cancer Research UK sponsored the trial, run in conjunction with Dr Hilary Fielder Director Cervical Screening Wales Cervical Screening Wales. All women in the area who have either a second borderline or mildly abnormal cervical smear were invited by letter to participate. The trial involved taking DIM daily for six months while waiting for the next pap smear.

Clinics were held in the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Back in 2004, researchers invited only women with borderline or mildly abnormal smears to participate. However, if researchers saw a positive result, the research would be extended to include different groups of women, for example those with more severe abnormalities on their cervical smear. Participation in this trial had been voluntary.

Other health-related uses of cabbage or cabbage juice and various cruciferous vegetables: Minimizing cancer-causing substances in the intestine

Scientists have discovered that bacteria in certain fermented cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage help bolster the human immune system and reduce chances of acquiring cancer by minimizing cancer-causing substances in the intestine. When it comes to endorphins as your brain makes its own painkillers, can cabbage juice help and heal?

Your brain becomes its own painkiller when certain endorphins are excreted. Scientists are researching whether specific cultured, fermented foods can heal. Can cabbage juice made with its own cultured 'good' bacteria help to heal ulcers caused by 'bad' bacteria that eats away at your innards? Also check out articles on cabbage such as "Stop stomach ulcers with the miracle remedy of cabbage" and Dr. Ronald Hoffman's article on Ulcers.

Doctors know most ulcers are caused by H. pylori bacteria. What effects would cabbage juice have on bacteria?

Cabbage can be prepared mild or spicy. When is a food considered too spicy for the stomach? Or is spicy food that's also fermented a cultural preference, and what effects does spicy and fermented vegetables have on health? Check out the article, "Does Kimchi Cause Cancer - Nutrition Advice From Dr. Katz." The article suggests that if you eat a diet generally rich in fruits and vegetables of the unpickled variety, you'll lower your risk of stomach cancer. There are studies linking pickled food to stomach cancer. See, "Pickled food and risk of gastric cancer."

The dose makes the difference when it comes to pickled and spicy foods as well as genetics. But cabbage juice in its natural state, without a lot of added salt or spices is said to be helpful, according to some articles. So is fermented cabbage such as sauerkraut, if eaten in small amounts that don't build up the high salt content in your kidneys. On the other hand, you can ferment cabbage without salt by using lemon juice. See, "Lacto-fermentation Without Adding Salt." Or check out, "An Easy Salt-Free Sauerkraut Recipe."

Cabbage juice in medical studies

According to the article, "HCL Stomach Acid Test," published at the Seven Seeds Healthy Living website, Nov. 20, 2008, cabbage juice in medical studies has been shown to heal some stomach ulcers. The active ingredient is an amino acid called L-glutamine, which nourishes the cells lining the esophagus and stomach so they repair themselves.

The article also suggests juicing 4-8 ounces of cabbage and drinking it after meals. That article mentions that to avoid gas (if your body reacts that way to the cabbage juice) take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of L-glutamine, mixed with 1/4 cup of water, after eating. Dr. Robert Downs, who heads the Southwest Center of Healing Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recommends a special concoction to relieve the heartburn of a hiatal hernia: one part aloe vera juice and four parts papaya juice blended 50/50 with mineral water or club soda, sipped often during the day, according to that article. Test a little aloe vera in your body to make sure you're not allergic to it or to the papaya juice.

Herbs effective for heartburn

Members of a group of herbs called carminatives relax the lower esophageal sphincter. When that sphincter is relaxed, the stomach acids slosh back up into your esophagus when you lie down and cause acid reflux symptoms.

So stay away from the herbal mint teas such as spearmint and peppermint herbal teas or combinations of herbal teas containing these herbs because they're carminatives. Also stay away from fennel and lemon balm as they're also carminatives and sometimes found in combination herbal caffeine-free teasans.

Stomach acid test looks at food-based alternatives

Cutting back on spicy foods, onions, and acidic juices such as citrus or tomato, saturated fats-especially deep-fried foods, alcohol, coffee, tea, white sugar, and unrefined carbohydrates. The article, "HCL Stomach Acid Test," suggests the following homeopathic and alternative herbal remedies.

Please talk to your health care team before taking anything unfamiliar as you don't know whether or not you're allergic to it or might have an adverse reaction or whether it's contraindicated mixed with your other medicines or supplements. That article suggests the following information for you to research:

Aloe Vera- Aloe gel contains very large sugar molecules called mucopolysaccharides. These special sugars have been shown to help heal burns, ulcers, and inflamed intestinal walls. 600 mg capsule form or 2 Tablespoons liquid form, 20 minutes before each meal, three times a day. That article mentions these alternative possibilities:

Homeopathic-Nux Vomica: 2 tablets of a 30C potency twice daily until symptoms are gone. Thereafter use as needed for occasional symptoms. If there is no improvement within one week, stop using it.

Slippery Elm: This is a wonderful anti-inflammatory and very soothing to mucous membranes. Suck on a lozenge after each meal or as needed. 500-1,000 capsule, tincture, or tea after each meal. Caution: Avoid taking medication at the exact same time, they should be taken one hour apart.

An article in the journal Alternative Therapies, Jul/Aug 2008 Vol14. No.4, (PDF) Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease - Encognitive.com, presented new studies of melatonin administration as a treatment for the symptoms of GERD. In the article, researchers found that the enterochromaffin cells of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract secret 400 times as much melatonin as the pineal gland. So it has been found to have an important role in GI functioning.

Researchers may want to keep our eye on this for a possible treatment. Read the PDF file of the article at the website, PDF] Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Also see, [PDF] from alternative-therapies.comMR Werbach - Alternative Therapies in Health, 2008 - alternative-therapies.com.

DLPA amino acid blend from lentils and peas -- instead of pain medication?

Recently a study compared an over-the-counter prescription painkiller with a blend of amino acids taken from peas and lentils called DLPA. The pea and lentil extract boosted pain relief by boosting levels of endorphins in your brain.

Basically, your brain becomes its own painkiller when those endorphins are excreted. In fact, scientists sometimes say that brain endorphins are "at least three times stronger than morphine," according to one study noted in the article "Pain-proof your back," on page 16 of Woman's World magazine, Dec. 20, 2010.

If you want to get deeper into the study on DLPA, check out the article, "Nutritional Therapy - DLPA, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Selenium," published at the site, 101 Alternative Healing. According to that article, "Dr. Seymour Ehrenpreis of the Chicago Medical School found that the amino acid DLPA (dl-phenylalanine) naturally protects the endorphins. Studies have shown that DLPA allows the patient's natural levels of endorphins to rise, reducing or eliminating long-standing chronic pain."

Researchers have found that the brain produces its own pain killers that resemble morphine

The chemicals are called endorphins. The problem is the body also destroys the endorphins. DLPA works to decrease pain, but it's not like a fast-acting pill because it takes from two days to six weeks for DLPA to allow your body's endorphin levels to increase enough to block some types of pain.

Scientists also found that DLPA also strengthens the painkilling effects of aspirin. You can buy this extract from peas and lentils in many health food stores. Don't take DLPA during pregnancy and/or lactation. Also don't take DLPA if you have a genetic condition called PKU (phenylketonuria. Don't take DLPA if you're on a phenylalanine-restricted diet. And don't give DLPA to anyone under age 14.

List of Foods Helping People with Acid Reflux

Here's a list of foods that generally help people with acid reflux conditions. For more information, see the Heart Burn Alliance Organization site. Notice that most of the foods are made without added fats or oils that can cause more acid to be produced to digest them.

To fight acid reflux, keep a food diary to identify foods that trigger heartburn. Some people have too little stomach acid rather than too much, or the stomach acid isn't producing enough digestive enzymes as people age. For example, people with type O blood produce a stronger stomach acid than people with type A blood, according to numerous naturopaths.

Pay close attention to portion size for all foods you eat each day. Note what quantities, if any, your stomach tolerates without acid reflux symptoms. According to the Heart Burn Alliance Organization website, "Use your “personal serving sizes” as a guide. Larger portions of any food are more likely to cause acid reflux, especially when you lie down.

9,000-year history of Chinese fermented beverages confirmed

Neolithic people in China consumed a mixed fermented beverage made of fruit, rice, and honey. Did it have health or healing benefits? Chemical analyses of ancient organics absorbed, and preserved, in pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, have revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago, approximately the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East, according to the study, "Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto-historic China," published on-line the week of December 6, 2004 in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

The food-related discoveries and their implications for understanding ancient Chinese culture

In addition, liquids more than 3,000 years old, remarkably preserved inside tightly lidded bronze vessels, were chemically analyzed. These vessels from the capital city of Anyang and an elite burial in the Yellow River Basin, dating to the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties (ca. 1250-1000 B.C.), contained specialized rice and millet "wines." The beverages had been flavored with herbs, flowers, and/or tree resins, and are similar to herbal wines described in the Shang dynasty oracle inscriptions.

The new discoveries, made by an international, multi-disciplinary team of researchers including the University of Pennsylvania Museum's archaeochemist Dr. Patrick McGovern of MASCA (Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology), provide the first direct chemical evidence for early fermented beverages in ancient Chinese culture, thus broadening our understanding of the key technological and cultural roles that fermented beverages played in China.

Authors of the study are Patrick E. McGovern, and also Juzhong Zhang, Jigen Tang, Zhiquing Zhang, Gretchen R. Hall, Robert A. Moreau, Alberto Nuñez, Eric D. Butrym, Michael P. Richards, Chen-shan Wang, Guangsheng Cheng, Zhijun Zhao, and Changsui Wang

Fermented beverages

Dr. McGovern worked with this team of researchers, associated with the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, the Institute of Archaeology in Beijing, the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Firmenich Corporation, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), and the Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dr. McGovern first met with archaeologists and scientists, including his co-authors on the paper, in China in 2000, returning there in 2001 and 2002. Because of the great interest in using modern scientific techniques to investigate a crucial aspect of ancient Chinese culture, collaboration was initiated and samples carried back to the U.S. for analysis. Chemical tests of the pottery from the Neolithic village of Jiahu was of special interest, because it is some of the earliest known pottery from China.

The 9,000-year old site in China also contained beverages, domesticated rice, musical instruments, pottery, and the earliest writing

This site was already famous for yielding some of the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing. Through a variety of chemical methods including gas and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, and stable isotope analysis, finger-print compounds were identified, including those for hawthorn fruit and/or wild grape, beeswax associated with honey, and rice.

The prehistoric beverage at Jiahu, Dr. McGovern asserts, paved the way for unique cereal beverages of the proto-historic 2nd millennium BC, remarkably preserved as liquids inside sealed bronze vessels of the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties. The vessels had become hermetically sealed when their tightly fitting lids corroded, preventing evaporation.

Numerous bronze vessels with these liquids have been excavated at major urban centers along the Yellow River, especially from elite burials of high-ranking individuals. Besides serving as burial goods to sustain the dead in the afterlife, the vessels and their contents can also be related to funerary ceremonies in which living intermediaries communicated with the deceased ancestor and gods in an altered state of consciousness after imbibing a fermented beverage.

"The fragrant aroma of the liquids inside the tightly lidded jars and vats, when their lids were first removed after some three thousand years, suggested that they indeed represented Shang and Western Zhou fermented beverages, " Dr. McGovern noted, according to the December 6, 2004 news release, "9,000-year history of Chinese fermented beverages confirmed."

Rice and millet wines

Samples of liquid inside vessels from the important capital of Anyang and the Changzikou Tomb in Luyi county were analyzed. The combined archaeochemical, archaeobotanical and archaeological evidence for the Changzikou Tomb and Anyang liquids point to their being fermented and filtered rice or millet "wines," either jiu or chang, its herbal equivalent, according to the Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions.

Specific aromatic herbs, for example wormword, flowers such as chrysanthemum, and/or tree resins such as China fir and elemi had been added to the wines, according to detected compounds such as camphor and alpha-cedrene, beta-amyrin and oleanolic acid, as well as benzaldehyde, acetic acid, and short-chain alcohols characteristic of rice and millet wines.

Saccarification used to break down the carbohydrates of grains into simple, fermentable sugars

Both jiu and chang of proto-historic China were likely made by mold saccharification, a uniquely Chinese contribution to beverage-making in which an assemblage of mold species are used to break down the carbohydrates of rice and other grains into simple, fermentable sugars. Yeast for fermentation of the simple sugars enters the process adventitiously, either brought in by insects or settling on to large and small cakes of the mold conglomerate (qu) from the rafters of old buildings. As many as 100 special herbs, including wormwood, are used today to make qu, and some have been shown to increase the yeast activity by as much as seven-fold.

For Dr. McGovern, who began his role in the Chinese wine studies in 2000, this discovery offers an exciting new chapter in our rapidly growing understanding of the importance of fermented beverages in human culture around the world. In 1990, he and colleagues Rudolph H. Michel and Virginia R. Badler first made headlines with the discovery of what was then the earliest known chemical evidence of wine, dating to ca. 3500-3100 B.C., from Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran.

Also see the article,"Drink and Be Merry: Infrared Spectroscopy and Ancient Near Eastern Wine in Organic Contents of Ancient Vessels: Materials Analysis and Archaeological Investigation." Editors of that article are W. R. Biers and P.E. McGovern, MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology, vol. 7, Philadelphia: MASCA, University of Pennsylvania Museum, University of Pennsylvania. Dogfish Head Brewery (Rehoboth Beach and Milton, DE) recreated this ancient Neolithic beverage, which was first tasted at a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, 19 May 2005.

That finding was followed up by the earliest chemically confirmed barley beer in 1992, inside another vessel from the same room at Godin Tepe that housed the wine jars

In 1994, chemical testing confirmed resinated wine inside two jars excavated by a Penn archaeological team at the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran, dating to ca. 5400 B.C. and some 2000 years earlier than the Godin Tepe jar. Dr. McGovern is author of Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press, 2003).

Dr. McGovern's research was made possible by support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (2000-2001; award BCS-9911128). The GC-MS analyses were carried out in the Chemistry Department of Drexel University through the kind auspices of J. P. Honovich. We also thank the Institute of Archaeology in Beijing and Zhengzhou for logistical support and providing samples for analysis.

Qin Ma Hui, Wuxiao Hong, Hsing-Tsung Huang, Shuicheng Li, Guoguang Luo, Victor Mair, Harold Olmo, Vernon Singleton, and Tiemei Chen variously advised on or facilitated the research. Changsui Wang, chairperson of the Archaeometry program at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei (Anhui Province) was untiring in his enthusiasm for the project, and personally accompanied Dr. McGovern on travels to excavations and institutes, where collaborations and meetings with key scientists and archaeologists were arranged.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. The Museum is located at 3260 South Street (across from Franklin Field), Philadelphia, PA 19104, and on the worldwide web at the University of Pennsylvania Museum website.

On another note, you also may enjoy the article, "How walnuts and flaxseeds may improve your blood pressure and your reaction to stress." Also please check out my newest Senior Nutrition Examiner column and my Sacramento Nutrition Examiner column, for more topics on nutrition and nutritional physiology and health research news, in addition to this column on senior health.

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