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Popeye didn't know it, but eating spinach can help prevent the development of prostate cancer. Many studies have shown that lifestyle is involved in most cases of prostate cancer, with nutrition most influential. Now researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan have found that spinach is packed with antioxidants called aromatic polyphenols that, in lab cultures of prostate tissue, slow the multiplication of tumor cells. Lead researcher Dr. Shlomo Bakshi said it can even halt the development of cancer.
Bakshi found that in transgenic mice that spontaneously develop prostate cancer, the tumor receded after the rodents were given 200 milligrams of spinach antioxidants for each kilo of weight. Their risk of death was reduced by 70 percent. The cancer cells were taken from a human prostate, but the active ingredients were tested and found effective also in rabbits and rats that were given cancer.
Previous research showed that eating a diet rich in soybean protein, which also has a high concentration of antioxidants, slows the growth of prostate cancer caused by injecting cancer cells into mice. The Bar-Ilan study, published in FEBS Letters (of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies) is the first to link spinach and this phenomenon.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Israeli Jewish males, followed by cancer of the colon and lungs. The older men get, the higher the risk. There are 5,000 Israelis who were recently treated for prostate cancer, and an additional 1,500 are diagnosed annually. Five hundred die of it each year.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea is its scientific Latin name) is a natural antioxidant vegetable from which compounds that help neutralize free oxygen radicals naturally created in the cells can be produced. Fresh or dried spinach has been used for years to treat digestive disorders, for production of blood cells to encourage growth in children and to treat tiredness.
"Spinach leaves are very effective as anti-inflammatory agents, as protection against toxicity of chemotherapy and as suppressants of papilloma cancer, Bakshi says.
DYEING TO GET A REACTION
Allergic reactions to hair dye are increasing around the world, including Israel, as more and younger people dye their hair. Researchers writing in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that the use of hair dye can cause dermatitis on the face and facial swelling in severe cases. More than two thirds of hair dyes currently contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD) and other related agents. During the 20th century, allergic reactions to PPD became such a problem that it was banned from hair dyes in Germany, France, and Sweden. Current European Union legislation allows PPD to comprise up to 6% of the constituents of hair dyes on the consumer market, but no satisfactory or widely accepted alternatives to these agents are available for use in permanent hair dye.
An increase in the frequency of positive reactions to PPD when skin was tested was found in a recent London survey, which found a doubling in frequency over six years to 7.1% in a clinic for adults with contact dermatitis. Israeli dermatologists have reported the same trend, as many people of both sexes are dying their hair not to cover gray but just to change the color. A survey in 1992 by the Japan Soap and Detergent Association found 13% of female high school students, 6% of women in their 20s, and 2% of men in their 20s reported using hair coloring. By 2001 the proportions had increased in these three groups to 41%, 85%, and 33%, respectively. Severe dye reactions among children have also been reported.
Wider debate on the safety and composition of hair dyes is overdue, say the authors. Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair are putting people at risk and increasing the burden on health services. It may not be easy to reverse these trends, as some patients have continued to use such dyes even when advised that they are allergic to them, they conclude.