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Building on basics

Eat your procyanidins

Alyson Mitchell studies compounds in fruits and vegetables for clues to how they may prevent cancer

Alyson Mitchell's lab is a cornucopia of colorful fruits and vegetables - if you're an astronaut. Big plastic bags of freeze-dried tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries are stuffed atop one shelf, while a refrigerator holds colorful glass vials of purified fruits and vegetables distilled to their phytochemical essence.

Basic science, and scientists like Kermit Carraway.

This experiment, however, is designed for inner space, not outer. Mitchell, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the food science and technology department at UC Davis, is studying how fruits and vegetables affect the body's ability to neutralize carcinogens that we eat, drink, breathe or are otherwise exposed to, and how they may prevent cancer.

Everyone knows a diet high in fruits and veggies is good for your health, not just for fighting cancer but for heart disease and diabetes as well. Cancers of the lung, pancreas, stomach, colon and prostate are particularly influenced by diet. Scientists believe that a diet high in plant foods may reduce the risk of these malignancies by as much as 50 percent.

But how much, why and how it all works is a complicated subject filled with uncertainties and conflicting hypotheses.


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