Micronutrients found in brightly colored produce could play a part in protecting you from cancer, a new review of studies suggests.
Researchers from Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women who have higher levels of carotenoids circulating in their bloodstreams also seem to have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, particularly estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer types.
Specifically, the decreased breast cancer risk was tied to high blood levels of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as overall levels of total carotenoids, the researchers found. Their findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Researchers speculated that carotenoids may have anti-cancer effects because alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin in particular because those compounds metabolize into retinol, the naturally occurring form of vitamin A in the blood, which in turn regulates the growth, development and death of cells. It does this by affecting gene expression, explained the researchers. Additionally, the compounds may improve communication between cells, cell defense and repair, they continued:
"Carotenoids also may be directly anticarcinogenic by several other mechanisms, including improved gap junction communication, enhanced immune system functioning, or antioxidant scavenging of reactive oxygen species; this may inhibit cellular dysregulation or DNA damage," they wrote.
The findings are based on the analysis of eight studies, which included a total of 3,055 people with breast cancer and 3,956 controls. TIME pointed out that produce like carrots, spinach and kale are particularly high in carotenoids.
This is certainly not the first time fruits and vegetables have been suggested to make a positive difference on breast cancer risk. Reuters reported on a 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, showing that breast cancer recurrence risk goes down by going above and beyond with eating produce.