Saturday, October 02, 2010

Swiss chard and lung cancer

If R is you or more specifically your DNA in charge
of cell proliferation, the CH3 or methyl group is your
potential road to ruin.

In the spring of 2008, one of my patients came back from a vacation to Mexico with "pneumonia". But I didn't really think it was pneumonia--the shadow on her x-ray wasn't quite pneumonia-ish, and her symptoms of fatigue and a non-productive cough weren't exactly right either. Anyway, we optimistically tried a course of antibiotics without any change in that infiltrate, and, alas, it was lung cancer after all. Mother of two boys still at home and an ex-smoker for more than a decade, my patient died at home six short months later.

Sometimes rogue DNA--perhaps damaged by aging, smoke, or an errant sunbeam--just gets the best of you despite all that water and veggies and walking at dawn. Still, a person keeps trying to do what she can to avoid the brick wall of mortality, and a recent study in the journal Cancer Research (1) further supports the value of leafy greens. But before we discuss the goodness of greens, a word or two on gene promoter hypermethylation events which are nothing you want occurring in your DNA.

Genes are minute strips of DNA. During a typical 'business-as-usual' day in the life of a normal cell, they are activated by external and internal events and transcribed via RNA to produce worthy proteins that carry on normal activities that include damage repair and control of cell proliferation. If, however, one instructional molecule of the DNA gets permanently tangled up with a methyl group, the entire gene is silenced and its work remains undone. Worse yet, as that cell with its load of methylated DNA replicates itself because no gene product was there to tell it not to, all its offspring cells are also methylated. As a result, an out of control, methylated mass of cells continues to grow unchecked. Sounds like cancer, doesn't it?

So once hypermethylated, can you become demethylated? Such a demethylation process is the dream of scientists looking for chemopreventive strategies. As opposed to chemotherapy drugs which seek and destroy cancer cells, chemopreventive agents act to repair or prevent malignant change. Researchers from the University of New Mexico sorted through sputum from smokers (both current and ex-) seeing if certain dietary strategies were associated with lower levels of methylated genes in expectorated DNA.

Some 1,100 subjects dutifully hawked up their secretions and completed Harvard Food Frequency Questionnaires. As a result, the New Mexican docs were able to identify leafy greens (and we're not talking lettuce here), folate, and multivitamin use as three strategies that correlate with less methyl-generated mess. They proposed that further study might verify these and other agents as ways to reprogram our genome for life without cancer.

Now I'm all for this sort of research as a doctor and an ex-smoker. My problem is that a pile of steamed chard (or kale or greens) is an unappealing mess all its own. Any suggestions of different ways to prepare an appetizing, chemopreventive side dish of greens?
1) Stidley, CA et al. Multivitamins, folate, and green vegetables protect against gene promoter methylation in the aerodigestive tract of smokers. Cancer Res. 2010 Jan 15;70(2):568-74.


kenju said...

I've never eaten Swiss chard, but we had kale for dinner last night. I love it.

I clean the leaves and remove them (in small pieces) from the spines. I saute 3-4 pieces of bacon in a large wok/skillet and remove the bacon to a paper plate. While the bacon fat is still hot, I put the kale in the skillet, stir and put the lid on so that the kale can wilt. I stir it a few times, and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.

You may not approve of the bacon, but it makes the kale delicious and we only have it once or twice per summer. I like to think that the good things I get from the kale can undo the damage from the bacon fat...LOL

Lynn Brofman said...

I include lots of collard greens and parsely in my Gumbo along with a variety of not so leafy veggies-- green pepper, okra, onions, garlic, file. In winter I use frozen chopped greens. It's a favorite cold weather treat.

femail doc said...

Geez KJ, do you think bacon fat methylates DNA? Any recipe that calls for stirring anything in bacon fat has got my attention!

Lynn, don't leave anything to my lack of culinary imagination--outline of gumbo preparation perhaps?

Reality Man said...

Stop whining. Saute in olive oil, maybe a little garlic and/or hot sauce.

Susan said...

We love leafy greens. For spinach: rinse it, then steam it with just the water clinging to the leaves until barely wilted. Put in a strainer and rinse immediately with cold water to stop it cooking. Squeeze the water out (and I mean squeeze!) Chop coarsely. Heat some olive oil in a pan, add some garlic if you like, add the spinach and stir fry until heated through. Serve with wedges of lemon. I couldn't stand cooked spinach until I started preparing it this way - but now I love it!

For chard, cut the leaves off the stems and chop them. Chop the stems and saute in olive oil (and a bit of butter if you like) with some chopped onions and garlic. Once these bits are starting to soften, add the leaves and stir until coated with the oil. Turn down the heat and put a lid on it until leaves are done. (I have a more precise recipe but I'm currently on the road - let me know if you want it.)

I prepare both kale and collards the way that kenju described, only I just use olive oil (and occasionally garlic). Bacon sounds yummy but I think the main thing with all these vegetables is to stir fry. Anythng else makes them to soggy and icky in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

Carrots & Kale: 1 T peanut oil, 1/2 lb carrots, sliced, 3/4 lb kale chopped, 1 T rice vinegar, 1 T soy sauce, 2 T peanuts -- In 5 qt pot, heat oil, saute carrots 1min; Add kale, vinegar & soy. Cook 2-min, covered till kale just wilts. Stir in nuts and serve immediately.

Anonymous said...

1 bunch kale, sliced; 1 C brown rice, cooked; 1 C lentils, cooked; 2T soy sauce; 6 cloves garlic, chopped; 1 onion sliced; splash vinegar, lemon, butter or oil; pepper -- Steam kale, cook garlic & onion in fry pan in small amount oil, butter or water. Stir fry kale and garlic/onion together. Mix in lentils, rice soy and vinegar or lemon j, oil or butter and pepper.

Anonymous said...

I won't write it out but on there is a great chard, tomato, cheese casserole recipe -- wonderful with local summer tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

1T diced Spanish onion, 2 C apple cider; 1 C stock; salt; 8 stalks Swiss chart, chopped, diced; 5 stalks kale, chopped. Combine onion, cider, stock & salt in large pot; bring to boil. Reduce heat & add greens and cover. Simmer 10 min. stirring often; cook total about 15 min.

Anonymous said...

Saute 1 chopped onion till golden in 3T butter; Add 1 lb chopped kale; saute 15 min; beat 4 eggs lightly and add to kale and stir to mix and cook till eggs are set.

Mauigirl said...

All that sounds wonderful! I'm too lazy to do most of that but the olive oil and garlic recipe is very tasty - and easy - for spinach and similar greens.

I swear I could be a vegetarian if someone else came to my house every day and made delicious vegetable based cuisine for me!

Ruth said...

I juiced an entire kale plant last night as well as an apple, cucumber, celery stalk, whole lemon, and 3 carrots. It made enough for 5 servings of green goodness. (I dilute it 50/50 with water) I mix the juicer remains into our dog's food.
It may not everyone's award for gourmet taste, but I like it.

dorsey said...

truly, lettuce doesn't make it? other than iceberg?

I do pretty much Susan's way with any other chopped veggies on hand, add yogurt and curry, good for the brain and a good way to disguise the taste if you need to, or just for something different. Steamed spinach, add yogurt and nutmeg or shredded parmesan.

I know, everyone's moved on from here but I'd stopped checking your site. Now I can suggest you stir fry (or I do) with sesame oil.

Terri said...

Juice! Juice! Juice! I buy a variety of organic greens and other veggies and drink about 20 oz of juice daily. I could never eat as much as I get by juicing. Took some time to get used to it, but it isn't about taste. Rotate different ones, go with what is in season when possible.

Anonymous said...

chop and fry with garlic, chopped onions and olive oil. add salt and pepper. Mix with pasta or eat on its own. top with parmesan or asiago cheese.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I did massive research on this and as a result bought a juicer. I juice fresh organic greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc. with cucumbers and celery to soften the taste). It doesn't taste great, but everyday I tell myself I am fighting methylation.

Anonymous said...

Dr Oz introduced a green smoothie on Oprah a few years ago. Find it on's a great way to get leafy greens. His recipe is good but I add a handful of greens to nearly any combo of fruit and yogurt, whirl away and sip. Anne Morley