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The focus on the health promoting effects of dietary substances have increased dramatically the last two decades, and it is now generally accepted that a row of naturally occurring dietary compounds may reduce the risk of several life style related diseases as cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD) and diabetes.
The early investigations (about 40 years ago) on the cancer preventive effects of dietary compounds were performed with indole-3-ylcarbinol (I3C), which is solely found in cruciferous vegetables. Since these first animal studies a lot of additional data has been generated and several molecular mechanisms for the action of I3C has been identified, including modulation of the metabolism of carcinogens (Cytochrome P-450 enzymes) and inhibition of cell proliferation (modulation of the cell cycle regulatory system). Beside I3C, other indoles are generated during the intake of cruciferous vegetables, but the activities of these have only been investigated few times. The activity of N-methoxy-indole-3-ylcarbinol (NI3C) and 4-methoxy-indole-3-ylcarbinol (4MeI3C) has been investigated in my lab, and these compounds are much more potent than I3C in vitro, and as their molecular effects differ from I3C, the combinatory effect of these three indoles as they are found in the cruciferous vegetables is likely much stronger than the effect of the single indoles.
Other dietary compounds do also have strong biological activities. Resveratrol, a stilbene primarily found in skin of grapes, red wine and berries, do likely have other biological targets compared to the indoles. The single and specific cellular target of resveratrol is not known yet, but resveratrol seems to act mostly as an inhibitor of the tumor promotion step of carcinogenesis. Further, inhibition of the inflammatory response by resveratrol (and other dietary compounds) does also suggest that resveratrol may reduce the risk of development of CHD and diabetes. Modulation of the NF-κB, Sirt1 and mTOR signaling cascades seems crucial in this anti-inflammatory response. On the other hand, one should keep in mind that the biological effects of the single compound resveratrol, can only explain part of the health promoting effects of fruits and vegetables. Also here, the combinatory effects of several (many) simultaneously working compounds is crucial.