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Study shows broccoli may offer protection against liver cancer

Published March 2, 2016
  • Research has shown that eating broccoli three to five times per week can lower the risk of many types of cancers.
  • Consuming a high-fat, high-sugar diet and having excess body fat is linked with the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • New study shows that including broccoli in the diet may protect against liver cancer, as well as aid in countering the development of NAFLD.

URBANA, Ill. – Consumption of broccoli has increased in the United States over the last few decades as scientists have reported that eating the vegetable three to five times per week can lower the risk of many types of cancer including breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

A new study from the University of Illinois reports that including broccoli in the diet may also protect against liver cancer, as well as aid in countering the development of fatty liver or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which can cause malfunction of the liver and lead to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a liver cancer with a high mortality rate.  

“The normal story about broccoli and health is that it can protect against a number of different cancers. But nobody had looked at liver cancer,” says Elizabeth Jeffery, a U of I emeritus professor of nutrition. “We decided that liver cancer needed to be studied particularly because of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. It is already in the literature that obesity enhances the risk for liver cancer and this is particularly true for men. They have almost a 5-fold greater risk for liver cancer if they are obese.”

Jeffery says that the majority of the U.S. population eats a diet high in saturated fats and added sugars. However, both of these are stored in the liver and can be converted to body fat. Consuming a high-fat, high-sugar diet and having excess body fat is linked with the development of NAFLD, which can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“We called this a Westernized-style diet in the study because we wanted to model how so many of us are eating today,” Jeffery says.

Previous research suggests that broccoli, a brassica vegetable containing bioactive compounds, may impede the accumulation of fat in the liver and protect against NAFLD in mice. Therefore, Jeffery and her team wanted to find out the impact of feeding broccoli to mice with a known liver cancer-causing carcinogen. The researchers studied four groups of mice; some of which were on a control diet or the Westernized diet, and some were given or not given broccoli.

“We wanted to look at this liver carcinogen in mice that were either obese or not obese,” Jeffery explains. “We did not do it using a genetic strain of obese mice, but mice that became obese the way that people do, by eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet.”

Although the researchers were predominantly interested in broccoli’s impact on the formation and progression of cancerous tumors in the liver, Jeffery explained that they also wanted to observe the health of the liver and how the liver was metabolizing lipids because of the high-fat diet. “There is almost no information about broccoli and high-fat associated diseases,” she says.

The study shows that in mice on the Westernized diet both the number of cancer nodules and the size of the cancer nodules increased in the liver. But when broccoli was added to the diet, the number of nodules decreased. Size was not affected.

“That was what we really set out to show,” Jeffery says. “But on top of that we were looking at the liver health. There are actually two ways of getting fatty liver; one, by eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet and the other by drinking too much alcohol. In this case, it is called non-alcoholic fatty liver, because we didn’t use the alcohol.  And it is something that is becoming prevalent among Americans. This disease means you are no longer controlling the amount of fat that is accumulating in your liver.”

With NAFLD, lipid globules form on the liver. During the study, the researchers observed these globules in the livers of the mice on the Westernized diet.

“We found that the Westernized diet did increase fatty liver, but we saw that the broccoli protected against it. Broccoli stopped too much uptake of fat into the liver by decreasing the uptake and increasing the output of lipid from the liver,” she says.

Jeffery notes that adding broccoli to the diet of the mice did not make them “thin,” or affect their body weight, but it did bring the liver under control, ultimately making them healthier. “This is one of the things that makes this very exciting for us,” she says.

“I think it’s very difficult, particularly given the choices in fast food restaurants, for everybody to eat a lower-fat diet. But more and more now you can get broccoli almost everywhere you go. Most restaurants will offer broccoli, and it’s really a good idea to have it with your meal,” Jeffery adds.

Jeffery’s previous research shows that eating broccoli freshly chopped or lightly steamed is the best way to get to the vegetables’ cancer-fighting compound, sulforaphane.

Although the researchers only used broccoli in the study, Jeffery adds that other brassica vegetables, such as cauliflower or Brussel sprouts, may have the same effect.

“Dietary broccoli lessens development of fatty liver and liver cancer in mice given diethylnitrosamine and fed a Western or control diet,” is published in the Journal of Nutrition. Co-authors include Yung-Ju Chen, previously of the U of I, and Matthew Wallig and Elizabeth Jeffery of the U of I.

Funding was provided by the National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health).

Researchers to discuss soy’s impact on health, weight loss maintenance at 2016 nutrition symposium

Published March 2, 2016
Paul S. MacLean, University of Colorado School of Medicine, will deliver the keynote address at the 2016 nutrition symposium.

URBANA, Ill. – Successfully maintaining weight loss can be difficult for many people. University of Colorado School of Medicine professor Paul S. MacLean will discuss this issue during his keynote address, “Physiological and Behavioral Challenges to Successful Weight Loss Maintenance,” at the 2016 Nutritional Sciences Graduate Student Association Nutrition Symposium on Wednesday, March 30, from 4 to 5 p.m. in 180 Bevier Hall at the University of Illinois.

The event is open to the public.

MacLean is a professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes. His research is focused on understanding the metabolic consequences of obesity and weight loss.

He is funded by the National Institutes of Health to examine the metabolic adaptations to long-term weight reduction that promote weight regain, and strategies that facilitate weight loss by countering those adaptations. He works closely with a number of scientists in the Colorado Health and Wellness Center who perform clinical studies in this area.

MacLean has a number of interdisciplinary collaborations with other programs on campus investigating the metabolic complications of obesity, including the impact of obesity on mammary gland development and lactation, how obesity affects the menopausal transition, and the link between obesity and postmenopausal breast cancer.

In addition to MacLean’s keynote address, a mini-symposium including U of I faculty researchers will take place from 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. The topic will be “Soybeans and Health: What Have We Learned?” The panel, all from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, will include: Hong Chen, associate professor; Elvira de Mejia, professor; John Erdman, professor emeritus, and William Helferich, professor.

Oral presentations by graduate students will take place from 9:15 to 11:30 a.m. Poster presentations will take place from 5:15 – 6:40pm. The keynote address will take place from 4 to 5 p.m.

All sessions except for the keynote address will take place in the Funk ACES Library.

The Nutrition Symposium is sponsored by Abbott Nutrition; Barilla; Hill’s Pet Nutrition; Mead Johnson Nutrition; Nestle-Purina; and. Friends of the symposium are Campbell Soup Company, U of I College of ACES Office of Research, and U of I Departments of Animal Sciences and Food Science and Human Nutrition. Funding is also provided by the U of I Student Organization Resource Fee.

For more information, go to

Releasing overwintered plants back into the wild: How to acclimatize them to nature’s wild ways

Published March 2, 2016
Houseplants outdoors
Follow a few simple steps to safely bring houseplants outdoors

URBANA, Ill. – Plants, like people and pets, prefer a particular environment to perk up and be prosperous, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“In the spring, when you are ready to take your plants outside for the growing season, the plants are likely to suffer damage if they are not acclimated correctly to outdoor conditions,” explains Bruce J. Black. “Overwintered plants have become accustomed to indoor conditions and, like humans, adapt slowly to rapid changes in environment.”

Environmental factors such as light, wind, and temperature are some examples of changes to keep in mind. Each factor causes a different physiological response in the plant.

“Natural light intensity can decrease by up to 50 percent during the winter,” Black says. “Setting plants outdoors in direct sun without acclimating them to the increased lighting levels will cause scald or sunburn, which could lead to bleaching, browning, or necrosis (death) of the plant. Plant reactions depend on the amount of light the plant can tolerate.”

Indoor air tends to be relatively calm compared to outdoors, where plants will be exposed to wind. When plants are exposed to wind they become more rigid to support themselves. Too much wind can increase the rate of transpiration (loss of water through openings in the leaves) and may increase the rate of soil drying.

Most homes are kept at a constant temperature during the winter, between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with a slight decrease at night. Outdoor temperatures fluctuate much more substantially. Plants not known for their cold tolerance (such as potted dahlias and hibiscus) can be injured if the low approaches freezing. Black advises that indoor plants should only be moved outdoors after the risk of frost is over.

“Before permanent placement outdoors, place the plants in a part-shade, wind-protected spot close to your home. Leave them in that spot for a few hours the first day, and gradually increase their time outdoors over a few weeks. This will allow the plants to begin to adapt to outdoor conditions,” Black says. “Gradually weaning your plants to the outdoors will give them a greater chance of thriving.

“Once they adapt to outdoor conditions, don’t forget to increase watering and fertilize occasionally as recommended,” he adds.    

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

A new way to look at soybean management

Published March 2, 2016
soybean plants
U of I researcher asking for participants in soybean management study

URBANA, Ill. – A new multi-state research project funded by the North Central Soybean Research Program has been initiated to investigate the effects of weather, soils, and management on soybean yields. The project’s University of Illinois leader is looking for help from Illinois farmers.

“As part of this project, we need to gather basic information on at least 500 Illinois soybean fields for each of the crop years 2014 through 2017,” says U of I crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger.

These data will go into a large database that will be used to look at how management affects yields in a given soil type and with a certain weather pattern. In effect, each field can be treated as a “test plot” and, with enough “plots”, researchers will be able to detect yield effects of factors like planting date, variety maturity, and other management decisions.

“I’m asking for help from soybean producers and those who work with producers to gather the information we need to make this work,” explains Nafziger. “For now, we are focusing on getting information from fields in 2014 and 2015.” The researchers plan to ask for information again after the 2016 and 2017 crop years.

Producers will be asked to fill in information for up to four soybean fields on a simple form. The form requests about 20 pieces of information for each field, including field location, planting date, variety, and seeding rate, but no detailed records (such as names, application dates, and rates of herbicide) are required. Most farmers will be able to record information for a field in five to ten minutes.

“The more fields we’re able to get information on, the more useful this effort will be,” Nafziger explains. “As the largest and best state for soybean production, we are hoping to produce the largest and best set of information of all states involved in this effort.”

Farmers who want to participate can fill out the forms posted at or can contact Nafziger directly for electronic or paper copies of the forms. Nafziger can be reached at

Is conservation aid preventing deforestation?

Published March 1, 2016
aerial photo showing deforestation
Aerial view showing the border area of W National Park in Benin, Africa. Deforestation outside of the park is visible, with relatively better conditions within the park. Forest clearing is beginning to encroach on the park. Photo credit: Daniel Miller
  • International conservation aid may lead to more deforestation in sub-Saharan African countries.
  • Better governance can help mitigate forest loss in heavily forested countries.
  • Researchers revealed issues with aid funding by including rates of deforestation in a study of 42 African countries.

URBANA, Ill. – With over $3.4 billion spent in international conservation funding to protect biodiversity and stop tropical deforestation in Africa since the early 1990s, it makes sense to ask if the funding is effective. A recent study finds that conservation aid alone has not been able to counteract deforestation pressures, and in some cases may have even exacerbated forest loss.

University of Illinois’s Daniel Miller, who studies international environmental politics, and two other researchers examined data from 2000 to 2013 on the rates of deforestation across 42 sub-Saharan countries.

“We find evidence that some conservation aid actually leads to a short-term increase in deforestation,” Miller says. “Our hypothesis is that it’s displacement. The conservation aid may have gone toward a national park in, say, Benin, leading to less deforestation inside the park.  That’s the good news, but the bad news is that the funding may have just displaced forest clearing activities outside park boundaries. Our study looks at the country-size scale, so results may be capturing this displacement effect.”

Miller and his co-authors looked at a sub-set of African countries with high forest cover—countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia—to see if dynamics were different. They found that quality of governance—rule of law, government effectiveness, whether citizens have a voice in selecting their leaders—affected the results. 

 “In heavily forested countries, we found that better governance on its own did not predict less deforestation,” Miller says, “but in such countries, better governance apparently allowed conservation aid to have a positive impact in reducing deforestation. It may be that good governance in countries where forests are an important natural resource helps ensure conservation and sustainable management not only in protected areas but outside them as well.”

Miller says there is already a lot of research looking at factors such as economic growth and rural population growth as deforestation drivers. A key innovation in this study is to include factors that can mitigate deforestation drivers, like conservation aid and existence of national parks and other projected areas, in the same statistical models.

“Unfortunately, the amount of aid is so little and the pressures to cut down the forest for furniture markets, firewood and building materials for homes, or other uses are so great that the conservation and money and protected areas are not enough to counteract the overall loss of forest in many countries.”

The study “Assessing the impact of international conservation aid on deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa” appears in Environmental Research Letters. It was written by Matthew Bare, Craig Kauffman, and Daniel C. Miller. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation provided funding to support the research.