Marcus Laux, N.D.
It’s a well-known fact that a healthy diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables. However, most Americans do not consume the recommended amounts of these foods. A national campaign called “5 a Day for Better Health” was initiated by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and Produce for Better Health Foundation. The goal of this partnership is to encourage Americans to increase the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables to at least five servings a day. Recently, however, a substantial amount of evidence indicates that not all vegetables are the same in nutritional value and health benefits. Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) have more nutrients per serving than many other vegetables.
Nutrients called phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables provide health protection by decreasing the effects of cancer-causing chemicals. The most active and important of these phytochemicals, diindolylmethane (DIM), has shown great promise as an anticancer agent.
Q. What is DIM? DIM is an indole phytonutrient (plant nutrient) found only in cruciferous vegetables. When broccoli or any other cruciferous vegetables are chewed, plant enzymes are released. Once these enzymes are exposed to stomach acid, a compound called indole-3 carbinol (I3C) is formed which, in turn, yields DIM.
Q. How does DIM work? DIM has a direct effect on the hormone estrogen and how it is metabolized. Estrogen has many beneficial activities in the human body: regulating the growth and development of reproductive organs, controlling the growth of the uterine lining, assisting in promotion of fertilization and pregnancy, maintaining the normal structure of skin and blood vessels, maintaining bone structure, and regulating various metabolic processes. However, excessive prolonged exposure to estrogen is also associated with serious health problems. Women with higher levels of estrogen circulating in their bloodstreams have a higher incidence of breast cancer. Also, certain estrogen metabolites are directly linked to the development of several types of cancer.
Scientists have discovered that 2-methoxyestrogens, one of several types of estrogen, can actually inhibit the growth of malignant tumors. Researchers have speculated that increasing production of this “good” estrogen would be very beneficial. This is where DIM enters the picture-DIM can successfully increase the ratio of “good” to “bad” estrogen. DIM supplementation specifically promotes beneficial estrogen metabolism and helps restore a healthy hormonal balance.
Q. Is there any research that shows DIM improves health? Many impressive studies have led to understanding DIM’s effect on cancer. Scientists have determined DIM actually inhibits cancer cell growth. DIM has also been shown to enhance the activity of enzymes found in certain pathways in the liver. These enzymes are important for healthy estrogen metabolism that reduces the risk of cancer development.
Q. Is DIM for women only, since it decreases the harmful effect of estrogen? While estrogen is generally thought of as a female hormone, men need and produce small amounts of estrogen, too. In fact, it’s believed that in men, estrogen is converted from testosterone, the most abundant male sex hormone. This estrogen conversion from testosterone, with further metabolism of estrogen into estradiol, estrone, and the hydroxylation of “good” and “bad” estrogens, occurs in the liver, the same place estrogen metabolism occurs in women. In men, estrogen assists in the production of healthy and viable sperm. Research has determined that harmful alterations in the “good estrogen” to “bad estrogen” ratio are responsible for the development of certain cancers in men and women.
Q. What is the best way to increase DIM & “good” estrogen? DIM is extremely insoluble and poorly absorbed without a biodelivery vehicle. DIM supplements need to provide an effective delivery system, preferably one that has undergone testing in animal and clinical settings.
(DIM provides many advantages over indole-3-carbinol, another cruciferous phytochemical available as a dietary supplement (I3C). I3C is an unstable precursor that requires activation in the stomach to be converted into DIM. This means I3Cmust be taken at a much higher amount and can undergo unpredictable and undesirable chemical reactions in your stomach or colon. DIM is by far the preferable supplement.)
Q. Are DIM supplements safe? DIM has been taken as a dietary supplement for many years without any reports of adverse effects, and DIM’s safety has been evaluated. The use of DIM in an animal study at hundreds of times the amount provided in dietary supplements produced no adverse effects. Some individuals may notice some minor stomach upset with DIM supplements. Taking DIM supplements with food often eliminates this problem. Harmless changes in urine color may occur with the use of DIM supplements. This color reflects the presence of DIM metabolites that have an amber color. Individuals who eat large amounts of DIM-containing cruciferous vegetables would notice similarly colored urine. Drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day will often eliminate this problem. However, if individuals notice a change in urine odor or haziness in their urine, they need to consult their licensed health care practitioner. These changes are not a result of DIM supplementation and could instead be the signs of a urinary tract infection.
Q. Wouldn’t eating more broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables be more natural and healthy than taking DIM? Increasing consumption of cruciferous vegetables may be beneficial for most people. However, many individuals have good intentions of eating more broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower but find they don’t or can’t actually do so. While Americans eat 3.6 servings of vegetables and 1.6 servings of fruit daily – iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, French fries, bananas, and orange juice were the most commonly consumed items. Dark green and cruciferous vegetable intake was quite low.
Q. How much DIM should be taken? Studies show the most effective amount of supplemental DIM is 30 mg. of absorbable DIM per dose, with daily doses of 60 mg. for women and 120 mg. for men. (The lower the absorbability of DIM, the higher the dose required to meet these levels. Plain DIM is not very well absorbed.)
There are many risk factors associated with cancer: some that can be altered (such as smoking in lung cancer) and some that cannot (such as gender in breast cancer). Scientific evidence suggests about one-third cancer deaths are nutrition-related and could be prevented. While many individuals try hard to reduce their own personal and modifiable cancer risk, this is not always easy to do. Using supplemental DIM is a remarkable way to reduce cancer risk.