Sauerkraut, that familiar hot dog condiment, may not have the beauty of garnet-colored raspberries or the sweet, refreshing flavor of tropical fruits. But the latest scientific research tells us that freshly-made organic sauerkraut is a true superfood that boosts the immune system, promotes intestinal health, and helps to prevent cancer in many ways.
How does sauerkraut prevent cancer?
Cabbage, the cruciferous vegetable from which sauerkraut is made, is already valued by natural food experts and nutritionists for its sky-high amounts of anticarcinogenic bioactive compounds. In fact, the glucosinolates in cabbage help to activate the body’s own antioxidants – which in turn fight the lipid oxidation and inflammation that can trigger cancer and heart disease.
Additionally, the process of lacto-fermentation involved in turning cabbage to sauerkraut produces beneficial bacteria and unleashes even more potent anti-inflammatory cancer-fighting substances – taking the health benefits to a whole new level and helping to ward off cancers of the prostate, bladder and breast.
Lactic fermentation helps to ward off cancer
According to author and natural health expert Sandor Ellix Katz, the process of lactic fermentation not only preserves the nutrients in food, but breaks them down so they are even more healthful and easily digested. But what, exactly, is lactic fermentation, and why is it beneficial?
Although the term sounds somewhat technical, it is actually the natural result of layering shredded cabbage in water with salt, then letting existing bacteria on the cabbage do the work. The end product – sauerkraut – contains more live probiotic cultures than yogurt.
One result of lacto-fermentation is to create large amounts of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria, which support friendly flora in the intestinal tract. Another is the release of isothiocyanate compounds, from existing glucosinolate; it is these isothiocyanates that have shown such pronounced anticarcinogenic effects in cell, laboratory and human studies.
Impressive science behind the benefits of sauerkraut
In an October 2002 article in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers announced that they had isolated isothiocyanates in sauerkraut, and that these compounds had cancer-protective effects in animal studies. They added that clinical research would be required to determine if these effects extended to humans.
In the twelve years since the article was published, many studies on sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice show that it lowers cancer risk in humans – particularly for cancers of the breast and colon.
In a study published in 2011 in British Journal of Nutrition, researchers noted that the detoxifying enzymes in sauerkraut juice have an anticarcinogenic effect on kidney and liver cancer cells, and added that sauerkraut juice increased levels of glutathione-S-transferase – considered a chemoprotective agent.
Sauerkraut’s probiotic cultures attack cancer cells.
In a review published in 2006 in Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers stated that lactic acid bacteria could prevent certain types of cancer – including colon and bladder cancer – and categorized the ways in which probiotic cultures help to torpedo cancer cell development.
Not only do probiotic cultures detoxify ingested carcinogens and stimulate the immune system, they also create an environment hostile to carcinogenic compounds. Specifically, they create organic compounds – including butyrate – that inhibit the growth of tumors and encourage the apoptosis, or programmed cell death, of cancer cells.
The authors theorized that probiotic cultures may also suppress bacteria responsible for turning procarcinogens to carcinogens, and added that lactobacillus could bind to mutagenic compounds in the intestine.
What is the best type of sauerkraut to prevent cancer?
Buy only sauerkraut that is freshly made, raw, unpasteurized and organic; your best bet is to look for it in the refrigerated aisle of local markets or farmers markets. Avoid canned sauerkraut, which offers far fewer nutrients and probiotic benefits.
Most experts recommend consuming at least 1 and ½ cups of sauerkraut 4 to 5 times a week; 2-cup servings, of course, are even healthier.
One cautionary note: raw sauerkraut produces raffinose, a trisaccharide that can’t be broken down in the intestine. Bloating and flatulence can result, but should subside as your body becomes accustomed to this healthful food.
Fresh lacto-fermented sauerkraut, packed with cancer-fighting compounds and antioxidants and high in healthful dietary fiber, is a superb nutritional choice.