Our bodies are made up of roughly 100 trillion cells. Each cell contains DNA, the genetic code that makes up you. DNA is in constant motion, either replicating itself or in the process of translating its code into RNA, eventually leading to the creation of proteins. It is during these processes that mistakes can and will happen. Combined with damage by free radicals and the environment, there are, on average, 800 incidents of DNA damage that occur in our body per hour, which equates to about 19,200 incidents per day. The damage can cause mutations that may give rise to cancer if it’s not repaired. Fortunately, our bodies have ways to repair these mistakes before they become a problem. The repair mechanisms in our body are a biological processes that can be influenced by what we eat. Therefore, what we eat plays a significant role in our body’s ability to repair DNA damage. This may explain why plant based foods like fruits and vegetables have very powerful anti cancer effects.
Scientists have noted that mistakes in DNA repair, that may give rise to cancer, are not entirely determined by your genes. Roughly, 50-75% of mistakes that pop up in your DNA are caused by natural inherent errors. The other 25-50% of damage to your DNA is influenced by your diet and the environment in and and around your body. The outer environment, like the sun and air, are factors that are largely out of your control. However, the environment inside your body is the opposite.
Plant based foods, like fruits and vegetables, are absolutely essential foods to eat in order to expand and maintain health. They contain nearly every vitamins, mineral and protein we need to sustain our lives. In addition, they contain powerful anti cancer and anti inflammatory compounds called antioxidants that help keep diseases, like cancer, at bay. Antioxidants knock out these free radicals, which are highly reactive and destructive compounds in our body, by breaking them down or neutralizing them. Less damage to your DNA means there’s less damage to repair, easing the strain on the repair mechanism.
Naturally, scientists wanted to know which fruits and vegetables were better at promoting DNA repair. In one study, scientists decided to test this out using 9 extracts of different fruits. They tested: Lemons, Persimmons, Apples, Oranges, Strawberries, Choy sum, Broccoli, Celery and Lettuce. It turns out that the extracts of 6 of these foods significantly protected DNA from damage at very low doses. These foods were even more effective at protecting DNA when it was fully exposed. In the study, they lysed (broke open) the human cells exposing the DNA inside to the environment outside the cell. The environment outside the cell contained hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a strong free radical that is a by-product of cellular respiration.
In this study, lemons provided the most protection, cutting DNA damage by about 33%. The authors of the study wanted to determine if it the ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) naturally found in lemons was responsible for protecting the DNA from damage. They boiled the lemon extract for 30 minutes to neutralize the ascorbic acid before testing it again. It turns out the lemon extract was almost as effective at protecting the DNA as it was before they boiled it. This means the antioxidants were the primary protector of DNA. Many of the antioxidants found in lemons are common in other fruits and vegetables, especially the 5 others that stood out in the experiment. It’s also likely that a combination of fruits and or vegetables could work together to reduce DNA damage even more (i.e: synergism).
Although this is just one study, it does show and support the fact that that eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables has the potential to reduce DNA damage and reduce your risk of cancer before it has the chance to form.
- Szeto, Yim Tong, Wing Kwan Chu, and Iris FF Benzie. “Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables: a study of cellular availability and direct effects on human DNA.” Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry 70.10 (2006): 2551-2555.
- Astley, Siaˆn B., et al. “Evidence that dietary supplementation with carotenoids and carotenoid-rich foods modulates the DNA damage: repair balance in human lymphocytes.” British journal of nutrition 91.01 (2004): 63-72.
- Collins, Andrew R., Amaya Azqueta, and Sabine AS Langie. “Effects of micronutrients on DNA repair.” European journal of nutrition 51.3 (2012): 261-279.