Leafy green vegetables, folate, and some multivitamins could serve as protective factors against lung cancer in current and former smokers, according to a study that is a first step in understanding a complex association. The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study appeared online Jan. 12, 2010, in Cancer Research.
Researchers, led by Steven Belinsky, Ph.D., Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Albuquerque, N.M., examined cells that were coughed up by current and former smokers. Upon careful study of the cells and by comparing those cells with profiles of smokers’ dietary intake of leafy green vegetables, folate, and some multivitamins, they found that those particular substances could influence the prevalence of cellular gene methylation. Gene methylation is a chemical modification used by the cell to control gene expression.
The addition of methyl groups, which are simple four atom molecules, to DNA can affect whether the gene is expressed, i.e., whether the gene’s signal to produce a protein is actually sent. Many genes involved in critical cell functions, including cell division, are methylated in lung tumors. Gene methylation is likely to be a major mechanism in lung cancer development and progression, as well as a potential marker for the early detection of lung cancer.
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