Phytonutrients in certain plant foods may block the toxic effects of industrial pollutants like dioxins through the Ah receptor system.
Images thanks to Tonamel, Martin LaBarr, Ulterior epicure and Hal Dick via Flickr and Evan-Amos, Brian Arthur, Fir0002, Popolon, Amada44 and United States Department of Health and Human Services via Wikimedia Commons.
It is not very common that a single molecule attracts enough interest to merit international scientific conferences of its own, but the Ah receptor belongs to the rare elite of such molecules. That's the receptor on our intestinal immune cells activated by broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. The latest conference offered exciting new reports about the way plant-derived compounds in our diet are necessary for a fully functioning immune system of the gut. One study in particular expanded our understanding of how diet impacts immunity and health by showing that a plant-derived nutrient profoundly shapes the capacity for intestinal immune defense. And intestinal defense is not just against the pathogens we may ingest, but the toxins as well.
We're constantly exposed to a wide range of toxins in cigarette smoke, in exhaust fumes, furnace gases, cooked meat and fish, dairy products, and even in mother's milk because of what they themselves are exposed to. Many of these pollutants exert their toxic effects through the AH receptor system. For example dioxins invade the body mainly through the diet, more than 90% of exposure, as it concentrates through the food chain, presenting a serious health concern. But there are phytonutrients in fruits, vegetables, tea, red wine, and beans that block the effects of dioxins at close to the kinds of levels you can find in people's bloodstream after eating fruits and vegetables. It took like 3 apples a day to cut dioxin toxicity in half or about a tablespoon of red onion, more than most people eat in a day. And the half-life of these phytonutrients in the body is only about 25 hours so we have to keep it up day after day, but if we eat enough, the intake from a plant-based diet should be enough to inhibit the cancer causing effects of dioxins.
See at first, we just thought it was only cruciferous vegetables that were able to lock in these receptors and fend off toxins, but does that make evolutionary sense? Given the variety and flexibility of most mammalian diets, a specific dependence on cruciferous vegetables for optimal intestinal immune function would seem overly restrictive. Rather, it seems likely that many other foods contain compounds with similar immune-stimulatory properties.
And indeed, the search for foods containing similar immunomodulatory compounds has begun. Now we know that a wide variety of natural plant compounds can counteract the chemical pollution to which we're all exposed. There is actually one animal product that has also been shown to potentially block the cancer-causing effects of dioxins, though, camel urine. Camel urine, but not cow urine, was found to inhibit the effects of a known carcinogenic chemical. Importantly, the researchers emphasize, virgin camel urine showed the highest degree of inhibition, better than pregnant camel urine for example. So the next time your kids don't want to eat their fruits and veggies, you can just say hey, it's either that, or camel pee.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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What is this Ah Receptor thing? Please check out the “prequel,” The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense.
I report different mechanisms but similar outcomes in Plants vs. Pesticides and Eating Green to Prevent Cancer. So this all suggests a double benefit of eating lower on the food chain, since it would also entail lower exposure to toxic contaminants in the first place (Industrial Pollutants in Vegans).
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