Cabbage May Reduce Cancer Risk

Many people only think about cabbage around St. Patrick’s Day, when it’s traditionally cooked with corned beef and potatoes. But we hope that after reading about the healthy benefits it offers, it will make its way to your plate year-round.

Cabbage is in the same genus of vegetables as broccoli and kale, known as cruciferous vegetables.

Members of this group of plant foods have been the subject of a significant amount of research over the past several decades, particularly concerning their cancer-protective effects.

Cabbage May Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Cabbage is a great source of fiber, which is necessary for various aspects of health like digestion and cardiovascular function. The fiber content of cabbage may be one of several reasons why it has such a protective effect against colorectal cancer.

Interestingly, a study assessing factors that play a role in the lower disease risk seen in the Japanese population identified a higher intake of cabbage compared to other populations.1 In another study, greater intake of cabbage was associated with a 29% lower risk of colon cancer.2

Cabbage Leads the Way for Cancer Risk Reduction

Additional research has conveyed the ability of cabbage to significantly reduce the risk of other cancers such as stomach, kidney, bladder, gallbladder, breast, and pancreatic.3,4,5,6,7,8

When cabbage’s effects were being analyzed for pancreatic cancer, among several subgroups of fruits and vegetables, it was the only food evaluated that was associated with a significantly lower risk of this disease.

How Cabbage Fights Against Cancer

Cabbage increases the rate at which the body metabolizes and gets rid of carcinogens. It also protects DNA against radiation exposure.8

Chopping or chewing cruciferous vegetables like cabbage elicits a process that generates indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which forms byproducts that improve carcinogen metabolism, thereby helping to protect against cancer.9

Cruciferous vegetables increase the ratio of 2-hydroxyestrone to 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone, which is associated with greater protection against breast cancer.7

Recent research involving breast cancer cell lines has shown that cabbage alters the expression of enzymes involved in estrogen metabolism, leading the researchers involved in the study to conclude that these results partly explain cabbage's chemo-preventive activity.11

Sulforaphane, which, like I3C is formed from glucosinolates when cabbage is chewed, has been studied for possible use in cancer and other disorders. The products of glucosinolate breakdown play a role in the healthy cell signaling pathways and apoptosis.12

What About Fermented Cabbage?

Kimchi is a fermented Korean cabbage dish that is purported to be a factor in good health and longevity. Kimchi is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.13

Research indicates that kimchi can reduce the growth of foodborne pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus.14

Longer fermentation, which can be more than two years, significantly increases its antioxidant activity. Kimchi has been shown to have protective effects against asthma and cancer, to help digestion and immune function, and to benefit many other aspects of health.15,16

The Bottom Line

Cabbage is available in several varieties, including white, Chinese, and red. For cabbage to retain its beneficial properties, light cooking is preferable to longer cooking times.17

Extracts of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are also available as encapsulated formulas for those who don't always have time to cook.


  1. Haenszel W et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1980 Jan;64(1):17-22.
  2. Steinmetz KA et al. Int J Cancer. 1993 Mar 12;53(5):711-9.
  3. Hu JF et al. Int J Cancer. 1988 Mar 15;41(3):331-5.
  4. Rashidkhani B et al. Int J Cancer. 2005 Jan 20;113(3):451-5.
  5. Radosavljević V et al. Int Urol Nephrol. 2005;37(2):283-9.
  6. Rai A et al. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2006 Apr;15(2):134-7.
  7. Fowke JH et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Aug;9(8):773-9.
  8. Larsson SC et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Feb;15(2):301-5.
  9. Albert-Puleo M. J Ethnopharmacol. 1983 Dec;9(2-3):261-72.
  10. Bradfield CA et al. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1991;289:153-63.
  11. Szaefer H et al. Nutr Cancer. 2012 Aug;64(6):879-88.
  12. Smiechowska A et al. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2008 Apr 2;62:125-40.
  13. Cheigh HS et al. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1994;34(2):175-203.
  14. Kim YS et al. J Food Prot. 2008 Feb;71(2):325-32.
  15. Kim H et al. J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):172-8.
  16. Park KY et al. J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):6-20.
  17. Fuller Z et al. Br J Nutr. 2007 Aug;98(2):364-72.


Anonymous said...

Any studies on sauerkraut?

Is cabbage considered a 'leafy green' vegetable?

Life Extension said...

Anonymous- Cabbage is considered a cruciferous leafy green vegetable. Sauerkraut is also very nutritious as natural probiotics are found in it! :)

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