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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 00:37 GMT
Wheat may prevent colon cancer
Wheat field
Genetically modified wheat could prove effective
Wheat may be a vital weapon in the fight against cancer and other diseases, according to experts.

Whole grain wheat contains powerful antioxidants which may help to prevent colon cancer and possibly diabetes and heart disease.

Biochemists at Kansas State University, who carried out the research, say the findings may enable them to create modified wheat strains with high levels of cancer-fighting chemicals.

Dr Dolores Takemoto, who co-ordinated the study, said: "We hope we will be able to create a genetically modified plant.

High antioxidant levels mop up the free radicals

Dr Dolores Takemoto, biochemist
"We won't be modifying it to adapt to its environment, like most genetically modified plants, but we will be modifying it to produce more of its own cancer-fighting chemicals.

"We want to produce strains of wheat that are nutraceuticals, which are higher quality grains that have enhanced amounts of these antioxidants in them."

Antioxidants are important because they combat the body's free radicals - charged particles, produced by the body, which can damage cells.

Dr Takemoto said: "Throughout life you make a lot of free radicals.

"You want to keep them from forming because they contribute to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cataracts, even wrinkling.

"High antioxidant levels mop up the free radicals."

Vitamin supplements

Dr Takemoto and her colleagues are in the early stages of developing wheat with high levels of orthophenols - a chemical compound which acts as an antioxidant.

A successful modification could lead to wheat's ability to combat cancer by simply including it in a daily diet.

The biochemists are optimistic about wheat's cancer-fighting ability because their preliminary testing shows some available wheat strains already contain a great number of orthophenols.

But Cancer Research UK says studies to determine whether increased intake of any particular food substance directly protects against cancers and other diseases are notoriously complex.

The charity organisation suggests it is even more difficult to establish the individual nutritional components that impart protective effects.

Fruit and veg

Science Information Officer Sara Hiom said: "These scientists report that antioxidants, in addition to fibre, are protective in whole grain wheat.

"We agree that antioxidants can be effective in reducing DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

"Cancer Research UK maintains that these antioxidants are best consumed from a variety of natural sources such as vegetables and fruit as well as whole wheat products."

Antioxidants can be found in several vitamins, including vitamins E and D, but research shows that eating whole grain products and wheat germ is critical for the antioxidants to be absorbed.

In the UK, there are approximately 20,000 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed every year.

Only four out of ten patients are alive five years later.

Kansas produces about 16% of the US's total wheat yield - the largest amount on a state by state comparison

See also:

23 Aug 00 | Health
Scientists 'stop' cancer tumours
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