Breast cancer rates in Europe dropped dramatically for five to six years, only to rebound at the end of that period. For a while it seemed that breast cancer might be going or gone, but then it came back. What was going on? World War II! The war diminished breast cancer? Could it possibly have been the change in diet?

It took scientists about twenty years to conclude that the decreased incidence of breast cancer in Europe during World War II was probably associated with a change in diet and that one chemical entity in one type of food was responsible. It took time to come to the correct conclusion. No one jumped up in 1950 and said, “It’s because we ate so much cabbage.” However, during the war, the women and girls in Europe did eat a lot of cabbage. Cabbage was easier to get than sugar, meat, and fat.

From the end of World War II until today, people have wondered if ingredients in cabbage and other vegetables are truly important in the fight against cancer. A lot of work with mice and rats doped with cancer-causing substances has shown that cabbage juice could inhibit the formation and growth of cancers. Furthermore, a lot more work was done to identify a specific component in cabbage juice that could be responsible for a reduction in the occurrence of breast cancer and other cancers.

In cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and many other vegetables called cruciferous vegetables, there grows a set of chemical compounds called glucosinolates. One of these glucosinolates is called glucobrassicin. When plant cells of cruciferous vegetables are broken up by chewing, cutting, or grinding, an enzyme called myrosinase is released. Myrosinase will break down the glucobrassicin to produce, among other components, a dietary indole named indole-3-carbinol (I3C).

Literally hundreds of scientists have worked on the physiological effects of I3C and other dietary indoles in the human body and in the bodies of mice and rats. This extensive work has shown unequivocally that what your mother said about broccoli being good for you is absolutely true and scientifically proven.

What Happens to I3C in the Human Body?

The exact mechanism by which I3C does some good for human beings is not completely understood. However, important connections were discovered about 15 years ago.1 In this chapter we will only describe a small part of what is known.

First, we know the chemical structure of I3C.

We know that in the presence of acids, such as those in every person’s stomach, I3C is quite reactive and is readily transformed into a number of larger molecules that are biologically active. These indoles may undergo changes before interacting with the estrogenic hormones in the body.

What Do Dietary Indoles Have to Do with Estrogens?

Estradiol, a major female sex hormone produced in the ovaries, is carried by blood circulation to various cells in the body, where it is oxidized to produce other hormones that attach to estrogen receptors. Under one set of conditions in a human body, estradiol is normally oxidized to give the product 16-?-hydroxyestrone. This compound is said to be highly estrogenic; that is, it will enhance cell division. We want cell division when a baby is developing. We do not want rapid cell division in a cancer or a growing wart or a growing viral infection.

Another mode of oxidation of estradiol will give 2-hydroxyestrone. This compound will be attached to estrogen receptors, and by doing so, it will block the action of 16-?-hydroxyestrone. Hence 2-hydroxyestrone will suppress the cell division in a cancer or wart. In the normal human body, both these oxidation mechanisms occur, and only the balance between 16-?-hydroxyestrone and 2-hydroxyestrone will vary.

An abundance of I3C or the other dietary indoles appears to favor the formation of 2-hydroxyestrone. The proof of this effect has been thoroughly worked out by large-scale studies in which women were given I3C or a placebo. About sixty-five percent of those taking the I3C were shown to favor 2-hydroxyestrone production significantly.

Why Did Eating Cabbage Prevent Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a manifestation of unwanted cell division on a massive scale. If a cancer remains so small that it is not detected, who cares, until it starts to grow and is detected? The women in Europe during World War II might have had some cancers on a submicroscopic scale. These tiny growths did not show themselves because the cells were slow to divide, if they divided at all. The indoles from the cabbage that these women ate suppressed the more estrogenic oxidation of the estradiol, and the receptors that cause rapid cell division just did not get the signal to promote wild growth.

What Other Afflictions Are Responsive to Dietary Indoles?

A number of other cell division processes are inhibited by dietary indoles. For example, a host of diseases can be traced to various strains of papilloma viruses. These viruses are often transmitted from one person to another by sexual contact. This transmission is very widespread, but since most of the papilloma viruses give few or mild aggravating symptoms, less attention is paid to curing this infection. However, genital warts result from some strains of the papilloma virus, and this is a prevalent affliction. Mothers can transmit such viruses to their children during childbirth. Such an infection might show up as warts on the infant’s vocal chords, which become a clinical condition in young children.

Warts on the soft tissue of the vocal chords is called laryngeal papillomatosis or recurring respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). This condition responds to dietary indoles taken orally.

Effective in about sixty percent of the children with RRP, dietary indoles are among the most effective and least expensive methods of dealing with this infection.

Prior to the early 1990s, doctors were prescribing cabbage juice as a remedy for RRP, building on the earlier studies growing out of the observations concerning women in Europe during World War II. You can imagine the fuss of getting a five-year-old to drink cabbage juice, maybe pints per day.

Cancer of the cervix in women is known to result from a papilloma infection of the cervix that first manifests as cervical dysplasia. While there is presently a vaccine for cervical cancer, women often find relief from cervical dysplasia by taking dietary indoles.

Since fibromyalgia, symptoms of which include chronic fatigue, is more prevalent in women than in men, it is reasonable to conclude that fibromyalgia is at least partly hormone related. A number of people with fibromyalgia have found that they can sleep much better when they are taking dietary indole supplementation.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit

Author's Bio: 

G. Merrill Andrus, PhD (chemistry), has a major interest in alternative and natural healing that will prolong his active life. At age eighty-one, he still works full-time and intends to do so for years to come. His recent activities in the dietary supplement field include advancing the use of dietary indoles for protection against RRP, cervical dysplasia, fibromyalgia, and other hormone-related conditions. He has also helped show that the use of L-glutathione will enhance the antioxidant requirements of the body. As president of Theranaturals, Inc. of Orem, Utah, he has the opportunity to promote these and other supplement applications.