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      Health effects of vegetables and fruit: assessing mechanisms of action in human experimental studies

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      The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
      Oxford University Press (OUP)

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          Abstract

          Epidemiologic data support the association between high intake of vegetables and fruits and low risk of chronic disease. There are several biologically plausible reasons why consumption of vegetables and fruit might slow or prevent the onset of chronic diseases. Vegetables and fruit are rich sources of a variety of nutrients, including vitamins, trace minerals, and dietary fiber, and many other classes of biologically active compounds. These phytochemicals can have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action, including modulation of detoxification enzymes, stimulation of the immune system, reduction of platelet aggregation, modulation of cholesterol synthesis and hormone metabolism, reduction of blood pressure, and antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. Although these effects have been examined primarily in animal and cell-culture models, experimental dietary studies in humans have also shown the capacity of vegetables and fruit and their constituents to modulate some of these potential disease-preventive mechanisms. The human studies have relied on intermediate endpoints related to disease risk. Design methodologies used include multiple-arm trials, randomized crossover studies, and more compromised designs such as nonrandomized crossovers and pre- and posttreatment analyses. Length of treatment ranged from a single dose to years depending on the mechanism of interest. Stringency of dietary control varied from addition of supplements to a habitual diet to provision of all food for the duration of a treatment. Rigorously conducted experimental dietary studies in humans are an important link between population- and laboratory-based research.

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          Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

          Lung cancer and cardiovascular disease are major causes of death in the United States. It has been proposed that carotenoids and retinoids are agents that may prevent these disorders. We conducted a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled primary prevention trial -- the Beta Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial -- involving a total of 18,314 smokers, former smokers, and workers exposed to asbestos. The effects of a combination of 30 mg of beta carotene per day and 25,000 IU of retinol (vitamin A) in the form of retinyl palmitate per day on the primary end point, the incidence of lung cancer, were compared with those of placebo. A total of 388 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed during the 73,135 person-years of follow-up (mean length of follow-up, 4.0 years). The active-treatment group had a relative risk of lung cancer of 1.28 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 1.57; P=0.02), as compared with the placebo group. There were no statistically significant differences in the risks of other types of cancer. In the active-treatment group, the relative risk of death from any cause was 1.17 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 1.33); of death from lung cancer, 1.46 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.07 to 2.00); and of death from cardiovascular disease, 1.26 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.99 to 1.61). On the basis of these findings, the randomized trial was stopped 21 months earlier than planned; follow-up will continue for another 5 years. After an average of four years of supplementation, the combination of beta carotene and vitamin A had no benefit and may have had an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and on the risk of death from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and any cause in smokers and workers exposed to asbestos.
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            Lack of effect of long-term supplementation with beta carotene on the incidence of malignant neoplasms and cardiovascular disease.

            Observational studies suggest that people who consume more fruits and vegetables containing beta carotene have somewhat lower risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and earlier basic research suggested plausible mechanisms. Because large randomized trials of long duration were necessary to test this hypothesis directly, we conducted a trial of beta carotene supplementation. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of beta carotene (50 mg on alternate days), we enrolled 22,071 male physicians, 40 to 84 years of age, in the United States; 11 percent were current smokers and 39 percent were former smokers at the beginning of the study in 1982. By December 31, 1995, the scheduled end of the study, fewer than 1 percent had been lost to follow-up, and compliance was 78 percent in the group that received beta carotene. Among 11,036 physicians randomly assigned to receive beta carotene and 11,035 assigned to receive placebo, there were virtually no early or late differences in the overall incidence of malignant neoplasms or cardiovascular disease, or in overall mortality. In the beta carotene group, 1273 men had any malignant neoplasm (except nonmelanoma skin cancer), as compared with 1293 in the placebo group (relative risk, 0.98; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.91 to 1.06). There were also no significant differences in the number of cases of lung cancer (82 in the beta carotene group vs. 88 in the placebo group); the number of deaths from cancer (386 vs. 380), deaths from any cause (979 vs. 968), or deaths from cardiovascular disease (338 vs. 313); the number of men with myocardial infarction (468 vs. 489); the number with stroke (367 vs. 382); or the number with any one of the previous three end points (967 vs. 972). Among current and former smokers, there were also no significant early or late differences in any of these end points. In this trial among healthy men, 12 years of supplementation with beta carotene produced neither benefit nor harm in terms of the incidence of malignant neoplasms, cardiovascular disease, or death from all causes.
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              Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review.

              In this review of the scientific literature on the relationship between vegetable and fruit consumption and risk of cancer, results from 206 human epidemiologic studies and 22 animal studies are summarized. The evidence for a protective effect of greater vegetable and fruit consumption is consistent for cancers of the stomach, esophagus, lung, oral cavity and pharynx, endometrium, pancreas, and colon. The types of vegetables or fruit that most often appear to be protective against cancer are raw vegetables, followed by allium vegetables, carrots, green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tomatoes. Substances present in vegetables and fruit that may help protect against cancer, and their mechanisms, are also briefly reviewed; these include dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, indole-3-carbinol, allium compounds, isoflavones, protease inhibitors, saponins, phytosterols, inositol hexaphosphate, vitamin C, D-limonene, lutein, folic acid, beta carotene, lycopene, selenium, vitamin E, flavonoids, and dietary fiber. Current US vegetable and fruit intake, which averages about 3.4 servings per day, is discussed, as are possible noncancer-related effects of increased vegetable and fruit consumption, including benefits against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, diverticulosis, and cataracts. Suggestions for dietitians to use in counseling persons toward increasing vegetable and fruit intake are presented.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
                Oxford University Press (OUP)
                0002-9165
                1938-3207
                September 1999
                September 01 1999
                September 1999
                September 01 1999
                : 70
                : 3
                : 475s-490s
                Affiliations
                [1 ]From the Cancer Prevention Research Program, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle.
                Article
                10.1093/ajcn/70.3.475s
                10479220
                077bb9f2-449b-45bc-b527-75ab810f3b44
                © 1999
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