- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but scientists have found that eating a carrot every day could keep cancer at bay.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England and the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences suggests that a natural pesticide called falcarinol produced by carrots to protect the root vegetable from fungal diseases may be a potent cancer fighter, reducing malignancies in rats by a third.

Epidemiological studies have already shown that individuals with the highest carrot consumption can lower their risk of cancer by up to 40 percent.

“We already know that carrots are good for us and can reduce the risk of cancer, but until now we have not known which element of the vegetable has these special properties,” said Newcastle University lecturer Kirsten Brandt, who carried out the research.

The findings, published yesterday in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, were made after 24 rats with precancerous tumors were divided into three groups and fed with different diets.

After 18 weeks, the rats on the carrot diet and the falcarinol diet were a third less likely to develop full-scale tumors than the control group.

Falcarinol is toxic in large amounts, but a person would have to eat 400 kilograms of carrots — 882 pounds — at once to ingest a lethal dose. It is not known exactly why the natural pesticide is effective, but it could be because it stimulates mechanisms in the body that fight cancer, the research team suggests.

“We now need to take it a step further by finding out how much falcarinol is needed to prevent the development of cancer and if certain types of carrot are better than others, as there are many varieties in existence, of different shapes, colors and size,” Dr. Brandt said.

“We could also expand our research to include other vegetables. For consumers, it may soon no longer be a case of advising them to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but to eat particular types of these in certain quantities,” she added.

However, the experiment was conducted using raw carrots, so researchers do not yet know if eating boiled carrots or drinking carrot juice would have the same effect.

In addition to contribution to healthy eating advice for consumers and recommendations for growers, the research team believes the findings could aid the development of anti-cancer drugs and lead to specific fruit and vegetable diets that are targeted toward certain diseases.

But Vicky Stevens, a research scientist at the American Cancer Society, remains cautious.

“It is definitely worth following up on data that could be helpful in preventing cancer, but we have to keep in mind that this is done in animals, and that it is a big jump to say that it is going to do the same things in humans,” she said.

Ms. Stevens thinks falcarinol might be just one weapon in the vegetable anti-cancer arsenal.

“We don’t expect that there is going to be one single magic bullet. It is still important to consider the rest of the carrot, and other vegetables,” she said. “There is likely to be numerous things in vegetables that are helpful. It is not just going to be this single compound.”

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