Did you know there’s a common fruit grown in backyards and on farms all across the country that can help reduce your risk of developing cancer?
This cooling fruit, which is made of 96% water, shows up at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores everywhere, but you won’t find it next to the berries, oranges or apples…
Because this fruit suffers from the same confusion as tomatoes… it’s a fruit but we commonly consider it to be a vegetable, and group it in with other veggies.
And because it’s green, you’d probably never even think it’s a fruit.
All naming controversy aside, this “veggie” is packed with antioxidants and polyphenols that can reduce inflammation, scavenge free radicals and reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Find out how…
Did you guess this amazing fruit is the cucumber?
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) belong to the same gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) as melons and squash, grow on creeping vines in the same way and are used primarily as vegetables.
Cucumbers are available in dozens of varieties (with fantastic names like Dasher, Conquistador, Slicemaster, Victory and Comet), but generally there are two groups: slicing and pickling.
The slicing variety are what usually pop up in the grocery and at the market and are eaten fresh (and used to soothe puffy eyes). They have a thicker skin and are larger than the pickling variety.
The anti-cancer benefits of cucumbers come from several kinds of polyphenols: cucurbitacins, kaempferol, quercetin and apigenin.
Cucurbitacins shut down cancer cells
Cucurbitacins are chemicals found throughout the plant kingdom that serve to protect organisms from outside harm. They’re also what gives cucumbers their slightly bitter taste.
People have used the roots of plants from the Cucurbitaceae family in folk remedies for thousands of years for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.(1)
In more recent years numerous medical studies have researched the specific anti-cancer properties of a variety of both natural and semi-synthetic cucurbitacin chemicals (e.g., cucurbitacin A, cucurbitacin B, etc.), with interesting results.
In a 2007 study published in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology, researchers found a 1:1 ratio of cucurbitacin B and E can inhibit growth in human breast cancer cell lines by reducing the key protein complex the cancer cells need.(2)
In addition to that, the treated cells also showed reduced cell signaling molecules, which means the cancer cells can’t communicate with each other to spread. This combination induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the breast cancer cells.
Another study, this one published in Cancer Research in 2009, discovered that cucurbitacin B shrinks pancreatic tumors without any noticeable toxicity to healthy cells, and stops pancreatic cancer cells from spreading, both in vivo and in vitro.(3)
What was interesting about this study is that the researchers studied seven different pancreatic cell lines and found that cucurbitacin B selectively disrupted the JAK/STAT signaling pathways in all of them.
JAK/STAT pathways are the primary mechanism controlling cell growth, proliferation and apoptosis. So when cucurbitacin B is introduced into cancer cells, it stops all communication and signals the cells to die.
Cucurbitacins have also been shown to disrupt the MAPK cell pathway, which plays a key role in cancer cell proliferation and survival.(4)
Other research is testing the use of cucurbitacins in treating leukemia, lymphoma, prostate, lung, uterine liver, skin and colon cancer. Based on current results, it could be very promising.
But don’t wait to become sick to bring cucurbitacins into your life. Wash and eat whole cucumbers to help flood your cells with this cancer-fighting chemical. Be sure to eat the peels and seeds, as they have the highest concentrations.
Not only are cucumbers packed with cucurbitacins, but they also contain large amounts of the flavonoids quercetin, kaempferol and apigenin, known for their antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.
Kaempferol has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in cells, trigger apoptosis in unhealthy cells and inhibit cancer cell growth in a variety of different cancer cell lines.
It can target and turn off the signaling path of cancer cells while simultaneously boosting the strength of normal, healthy cells in response to oxidative stress. This helps to prevent the cells from falling prey to cancer in the first place.
The researchers, who published their findings in a 2014 issue of the journal Food Chemistry, stated, “Kaempferol’s value in its ability to distinguish between healthy and malignant cells cannot be overstated. Modern chemotherapy treatments pose serious health risks, a problem kaempferol seems to have resolved.”(5)
Sounds like something you’d like to have in your corner, doesn’t it?
This flavonoid is not only an excellent free-radical scavenging antioxidant it’s also a chemopreventer by inducing apoptosis in tumor cells.
In a 2011 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found quercetin can block the growth of several kinds of human cancer cells (including colon, lung and brain) at varying stages of the cell cycle. And much like kaempferol, it can do so while leaving the healthy cells be.(6)
Another common flavonoid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, apigenin has also been shown to slow the growth of ovarian tumors.(7)
Research suggests a diet high in flavonoids, including apigenin, can help reduce instances of breast, skin and digestive tract cancers, as well as blood malignancies.
More research is being done, but there is a strong potential that apigenins will be developed as a cancer chemopreventive agent.(8)
These aren’t the only chemopreventive agents found in cucumbers, but the list is too great to exhaust here.
Rest assured, there is no way eating cucumbers is bad for you, provided you’re eating organic.
Choose organic cucumbers all the way
Cucumbers are on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the top 12 pesticide-laced foods, when grown conventionally (aka “The Dirty Dozen” list).(9)
In fact, one study shows that conventionally grown cucumbers contain seven different pesticides, including propoxur, carbofuran and atrazine.(10) The effects of consuming these poisons can range from nausea, blurred vision and vomiting to full-on endocrine disruption.
Many cucumbers are waxed to protect the skins during transport. By law, organic cucumbers can only be coated with a non-synthetic wax that contains no chemical contaminants, whereas conventionally grown cucumbers may be covered with a petroleum-based wax.
Because the skin is rich in nutrients, you’re better off buying organic or from the farmer’s market so you can enjoy the whole cucumber, minus the cancer-causing chemicals.
Two health boosts in one vegetable
So far I’ve focused on eating fresh, raw slicing cucumbers, but I don’t want you to discount pickling cucumbers. These are the little gems that become all kinds of pickles.
And fermented pickles, which are made with a slow build-up of lactic acid, provide great probiotic fuel for the healthy bacteria in your gut. You can make fermented pickles at home in your slow cooker, or find them in specialty shops and online.
Unfortunately, regular dill and sweet pickles don’t offer the microbiome-boosting benefits of these “old-fashioned” pickles because they’re pickled quickly with vinegar and then pasteurized, which destroys any beneficial bacteria that may have grown in the process.
Having a healthy microbiome not only keeps you feeling better physically and emotionally, but can help to prevent colon cancer (see Issue #539 for more information about how your gut bacteria prevents cancer).
By eating organic cucumbers, you’re adding a lot of beneficial chemicals to your cells that can prevent cancer, soothe inflammation and destroy free radicals.
If you find regular cucumbers are too bitter, try English cucumbers, also known as hot house or seedless cucumbers. These have a lot of the same benefits, without the offending seeds.
- Cucurbitacins – A promising target for cancer therapy. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612419/
- Growth inhibitory activity of cucurbitacin glucosides isolated fromCitrullus colocynthis on human breast cancer cells. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006295206005818
- Cucurbitacin B induces apoptosis by inhibition of the JAK/STAT pathway and potentiates antiproliferative effects of gemcitabine on pancreatic cancer cells. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/69/14/5876.short
- Cucurbitacin: Ancient compound shedding new light on cancer treatment. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2010/565972/abs/
- A review of the dietary flavonoid, kaempferol on human health and cancer chemoprevention. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3601579/
- Quercetin and cancer chemoprevention. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136711/
- Apigenin inhibits proliferation of ovarian cancer A2780 cells through Id1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1016/j.febslet.2009.05.013/full
- Apigenin: A promising molecule for cancer prevention. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11095-010-0089-7
- EWG’s 2016 shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
- Detection of seven pesticides in cucumbers using hollow fibre-based liquid-phase microextraction and ultra-high pressure liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22682952