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3. MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES
This is the time of year when pumpkins are in season, and are incorporated into traditional festivals in Europe and North America (Harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving). If you have previously considered pumpkins as good only for carving into grinning Jack O’Lanterns then the short review from Yadev et al. (1) might shed a little light on some of its potential medicinal properties, including antioxidant, antiinflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic. However, the active compounds, possibly various alkaloids and flavonoids, have yet to be isolated and characterised, and much of the work cited has been done in animal or in vitro models, so the beneficial effects need to be confirmed in human subjects before pumpkin can graduate from traditional herbal remedy to new, safe, effective therapeutic agent. Pumpkin, along with its fruit and vegetable colleagues, has been linked with reduced risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma and its precursor, Barratt’s oesophagus; this relationship is explored by Kubo et al. in their review(2). The epidemiological evidence is apparently strongest for a protective effect of vitamin C, b-carotene, raw fruit and dark green, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, carbohydrates, fibre, Fe and possibly folate, while red meat and processed foods are associated with increased risk. Red and processed meats have long been dietary suspects in breast cancer carcinogenesis, though the evidence has been controversial, prompting Alexander et al. to conduct a review and meta-analysis(3) of all available prospective cohort studies, incorporating over 25 000 cases of breast cancer. The consensus the authors arrive at is that there is no strong independent association between intake of red meat or processed meat and breast cancer, though they note that results were sensitive to the choice of model (fixed or random effects). Hypotheses concerning the possible role of diet early in life need further (very long-term!) prospective studies, while investigation of the (conflicting) evidence from studies suggesting that meat intake could affect cancer risk through tumour hormone receptor status, whether positive or negative, is also required before unequivocal conclusions can be drawn.
Younger, K. (2010). Editorial: Nutrition Research Reviews. Nutrition Research Reviews , vol. 23, pg. 181–183. doi:10.1017/S0954422410000296
https://Editorial: Nutrition Research Reviews