An Introduction to Nutritional Medicine: The Case of Broccoli and Cancer

Just hearing the word cancer sends shivers up the spine.

This disease touches all of us, either directly or indirectly, and more so every day. And despite our great collective efforts to understand and cure it, we are still largely in the dark. However, sometimes we find something – something simple and amazing – that cuts through the darkness. The story of nutritional medicine and broccoli illustrates one such illuminating finding.


Recently, we have learned to treat some forms of cancer by eating food. We here in the States have treated cancer with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and most recently with biotechnology. None of them has delivered a cure-all magic bullet and some of these techniques have actually been more harmful than good. This experience tells us that the best approach is a holistic one that treats not just cancer itself, but also the person who develops it. One such approach is nutrition, which uses both the conventional problem-solving techniques of medical science and also the new appreciative techniques of amplifying what works well.

Medical Problem-Solving

On one hand, researchers and doctors looked at negative aspects of nutrition exclusively from a technical perspective. That technical perspective is based on problem-solving, which can lead to some serious consequences if applied too narrowly.

In one case, the problem was heart disease, the solution was margarine. They thought that people generally could become diseased by eating too much fat. So the FDA created policies that sought to restrict animal fat and promote a sort of hydrogenated “fat substitute.” The idea was that by restricting diets to vegetable oils, people would develop less disease. This idea permeated our society for decades, but it did not work. Margarine, touted by both medical and industry experts as a solution to a problem, was found to actually cause disease.

This narrow perspective was blind to a lot of societal and biochemical factors and many, many people lost their lives to it. Fortunately, there is a better way.

Appreciative Inquiry in Nutritional Medicine

On the other hand, researchers and health care providers looked beyond this narrow scope and to the actual healing properties of food. Rather than exclusively solve problems in a narrow sense, they instead turned their attention towards what worked, towards what actually amplified health.

Using this appreciative approach, they found that not all fats are bad; in fact, some fats are good for us, including fats like the famous Omega oils that come from both animals and plants. While Americans ate margarine and became increasingly diseased, Greenland Eskimos, who ate seal blubber and oily fish – literally to their heart’s content – remained largely free of heart disease. Such findings ushered in a new science, a science of nutrition.

The New Science of Nutrition

This new science of nutrition uses both problem-solving and also appreciative inquiry with hopeful, if not astonishing, results. Here is a great example: as many of us know, people undergoing chemotherapy develop the problem of nutritional deficiencies. They simply cannot get vitamins and protein from their food if they can even eat food in the first place. Consequently, doctors prescribe certain foods and supplements to solve this problem. Fair enough. This is a good thing. However, nutritional medicine researchers and practitioners realize that some foods not only support such problem-solving techniques, like chemotherapy, but these foods can also actually combat disease in the first place. Here is what I mean.

The Case of Cancer and Broccoli

This new science has found that broccoli is not only good for you in general, but that it actually functions to help combat cancer.
• In one study, researchers found “that men who ate two or more servings of broccoli per week had a 44% lower risk of bladder cancer than those who ate less than one serving a week.”
• This is significant. Eating broccoli may help save the lives of nearly half the men out there who are potential targets for bladder cancer.

But this is just the beginning. Not only can broccoli reduce the risk of getting cancer, it can actually help cure cancer.
• That same study concluded that our chewing, crunching, swallowing, and digesting broccoli releases compounds that “[halt] the growth of even the most powerful form of bladder cancer cells.”

Let’s be sure about this: This discovery rivals, if not surpasses, a great deal of those we hear about from the super high-tech medical and pharmaceutical establishment. Further, this amazing food – and there are others like it – can treat, if not cure, other forms of cancer as well. Nutritional medicine is taking the lead in advancing this knowledge and bringing it straight to your dinner table and all the way down to the cellular level.

The beauty of nutritional medicine is that it isn’t just about solving problems in a narrow sense, nutritional scientists and practitioners appreciate what works and actually amplify the benefits of good, functional, whole, foods like broccoli. Here is one final illustration of what I mean.

British researchers at the Institute for Food Research ( are helping people make up for genetic deficiencies that keep them from absorbing broccoli’s cancer-fighting compounds.
• They are developing a “super broccoli” – a green, tasty, crunchy vegetable – that releases more of those compounds earlier researchers discovered.
• These researchers have actually tripled the cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli!

Conclusion: Engaging Nutritional Medicine for Healing and Health

This is great news because while we are confirming that a good diet is still the best way we can prevent disease, we are also finding out that things are not always so simple:

• People do not always find the best information about what a “good diet” actually is. Narrow research philosophies and industry power have actually distorted what we know about our food.

• Not only is our information distorted, so is our food. Narrow, technical, industrial farming techniques have created an abundance of food – food that is just a shell of what it once was and of what it could be.

• Not everyone can extract the goodness from their food even if they can get good food.

So, for many reasons, we in the United States, and around the world as well, are now confirming that a basic healthy diet may not be enough for everybody. We may want to engage the new science of nutritional medicine because our own life patterns have led our bodies to radical imbalances or because of reasons entirely beyond our control. I hope that you live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life and will thus end with three recommendations: treatment, maintenance, and amplification.

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