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What's on Your Plate?

First we learned that broccoli can prevent cancer, thanks to a compound it contains that was first isolated at Hopkins a decade ago. Now, a new Hopkins study shows that the compound, sulforaphane, which is especially concentrated in three-day-old broccoli sprouts, also may help prevent human retinal disease. It turns out that sulforaphane helps cells defend themselves against oxidants-highly toxic molecules that damage DNA and kill cells.

As long ago as 1952, blindness resulting from damage to the retina-the part of the eye that detects and sends images to the brain-was linked to attacks by oxidants. Recent evidence suggests that dietary antioxidants can help prevent or reduce damage to retinal cells. As a result, Hopkins pharmacologist Paul Talalay, who's been investigating links between diet and disease for more that two decades, wondered if sulforaphane might have similar benefits.

His team tested three different cell types, including cancer cells and cells from the retina. When the cells were treated briefly with sulforaphane before exposure to an oxidant, all cell types defended themselves against damage. Furthermore, the response triggered by sulforaphane protected the cells against oxidants for two or three days. The extent of protection was tied to the amount of sulforaphane as well as the type of oxidant and its amount.

"This adds to already good evidence," says Talalay, "that eating large quantities of vegetables-and cruciferous ones play a special role-is one thing that really works to fight disease."

Get Off the Couch, Ditch the Munchies

It's no secret that diet and exercise help people with diabetes control the disease. But now, for the first time, comes evidence from a nationwide study at Johns Hopkins and 26 other medical centers that eating right and working up a sweat can dramatically lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the first place.

Formerly called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 8 percent of American adults. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age--even during childhood. Being overweight and inactive can increase the chances of developing the condition.

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Diabetes Prevention Program found that a large group of overweight people with impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor of diabetes, who were assigned to intensive diet and exercise interventions were able to reduce their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. And, of the 3,234 study participants nationwide, 45 percent were from minority groups that suffer disproportionately from type 2 diabetes-African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders.

The study also showed that treatment with the oral diabetes drug metformin reduced the group's diabetes risk by 31 percent.
"This is the first major trial," says Christopher Saudek, director of The Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center and president of the American Diabetes Association, "to show that diet and exercise can effectively delay diabetes in a diverse American population."



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