August, 2004 Health Beat

By Mary Jane Dittmar

The Self-Help Department
Every time we sit down to a meal, we are presented with a fresh opportunity to bolster our bodies’ natural defenses. Today, the overwhelming majority of us routinely squander that opportunity. –Melanie Polk, R.D., Director of Nutrition Education, The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).1

Here is some upbeat news. We can have some control over our health and resistance to disease, and we can do this without making major changes in our daily routines. This information may not be “breaking news” to most of us. But, like much of the rules/standards for health and safety, repeating them now and then helps to reinforce them. Moreover, some of the recent findings in the nutritional field add a new perspective to our understanding of “lifestyle changes” and “taking control” of our health.

Following are some examples of “small” changes we can make to improve/protect our health, according to recent research.

Eat Broccoli and Tomatoes Together: Proactive for Health?
A research study that will be published in the December issue of the Journal of Nutrition says eating broccoli and tomatoes together may help protect against cancer. John W. Erdman, Ph.D., professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana, led the study. It showed that rats fed a combination of tomatoes and broccoli had markedly less prostate tumor growth than rats who ate diets containing broccoli alone, tomatoes alone, or specific cancer-fighting substances isolated from tomatoes (lycopene, for example) and broccoli (glucosinolates, for example). The object of the study was to examine the effect of whole foods eaten in combination–not only of isolated substances–because people’s diets include many foods eaten in combination, Erdman explained.

In another study led by Erdman, groups of rats fed lycopene alone, tomato powder alone, broccoli powder alone, or a combination of broccoli and tomato powder had a more suppressed growth of prostate tumors than rats fed a normal diet supplemented with finasteride, a drug commonly prescribed to men who suffer from benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. The group of rats that ate the combination of broccoli and tomato powder showed the greatest ability to suppress prostate tumor growth.

To Erdman and other researchers and nutritional experts, there is promising potential in these food properties. “These preliminary results suggest that there is, in fact, an interactive protective effect between tomatoes and broccoli. Separately, these two foods appear to have enormous cancer-fighting potential. Together, they bring out the best in each other and maximize the cancer-fighting effect …. This interactivity is likely taking place in any diet high in a variety of plant foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.”

The “lesson learned”: ” … a medley of different vegetables eaten together will bolster the body’s different defenses against chronic disease,” according to the AICR. The AICR Web site is

Proportion Counts
Not only is what we eat important, but so is the proportion in which we consume the various food groups. Our diet must be “proportionately healthy.” A survey conducted by the AICR revealed that 72 percent of Americans eat meals that contain a high proportion of meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods in relation to vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. This type of meal proportion significantly increases our risk for cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases, warns the AICR.

“Americans have the proportions of foods on their plates reversed, and, by doing so, they are cutting themselves off from the protection afforded by the vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting phytochemicals found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans,” the AICR says. “They are taking in an excess of fat and calories.”

Research has shown that diets rich in many a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans are linked to a lower risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. The AICR explains, “The interaction of the different substances within these foods seems to be responsible for the observed protective effect. Diets lacking in a broad spectrum of plant foods don’t permit that kind of interaction.” This is the same message as in the research presented above.

According to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: “One-third of the average American’s daily vegetable intake consists of frozen potatoes (mainly French fries), potato chips, and iceberg lettuce.

Americans should prepare meals that include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans that take up at least two-thirds of the plate. Animal products should take up one-third of the plate or less. Meals that aim for such proportions can lower risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases.”

1 The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $67 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals, and research centers across the country. Its Web site is The AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

The Hazards Watch

Anne Arundel County Firefighters and Cancer
Another firefighter-cancer cluster investigation is underway. At the end of June, Anne Arundel County, Md., state and county health officials hired a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist to investigate whether using transformer oil as a fuel for training events at the county’s fire training academy during the 1970s and 1980s is related to the incidences of cancer reported among firefighters who served during that period. The oils used to ignite buildings and a pond at the Millersville Training Academy contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were banned by the federal government in the late 1970s. They were found to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

One attorney representing some of the firefighters said he was aware of about a dozen cases of cancer in the Anne Arundel Fire Department. He and his research team are evaluating previous studies on cancer, ill firefighters’ case histories, and the overall cancer trends in the county. Depending on their findings, they will determine whether to initiate a more comprehensive study.

Previous studies showed elevated rates of brain cancer among firefighters, but county officials said they did not have enough information to establish a connection between the period’s fire department practices and cancer. A former instructor has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Possible Cancer Connection to Anne Arundel Firefighters,”, posted June 29, 2004, accessed Aug. 11, 2004

Lead and Cadmium May Increase Risk of Peripheral Arterial Disease
Lead and cadmium may are increase the risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) at levels much lower than those set by current safety standards, according to an analysis of 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. Cadmium may be a major toxin in cigarettes.

The analyses covered 2,125 adults aged 40 years and older. Mean blood lead concentrations were 13.8 percent higher in subjects with PAD than in subjects without PAD; mean cadmium levels were about 16.1 percent higher. The study was published in June 29 issue of Circulation. ” ‘Safe’ levels of lead, cadmium may increase risk of peripheral arterial disease,” Laurie Barclay, MD, Medscape Medical News,, art. 480644, June 10, 2004

Do you have a health or safety tip or story to share? Is there an issue you’d like to see covered? Contact or call (973) 251-5052.

Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering magazine, fireEMS, and Before joining the magazine in 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.

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