Asian diet examined for clues to improve health

September / October 2015 | Volume 14, Issue 5

Asian woman eats using chopsticks seated at an outdoor table
Photo by Andrea Fisch,
courtesy of Photoshare

Woman eating at a table outside.

by Shana Potash

Cruciferous vegetables and green tea are big parts of the Asian diet. That makes Chinese men and women useful populations for research to determine if those staples might help prevent disease. The NIH is funding two large, ongoing epidemiological studies in Shanghai to better understand the causes of disease and to explore how diet and lifestyle affect health.

To assess the potential health effects of cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cabbage and bok choy, scientists analyzed data on more than 134,000 men and women in the Shanghai programs. The researchers concluded that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables did not significantly reduce the risk of cancer but had other benefits. “Our findings support recommendations to increase consumption of vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables, and fruit to promote cardiovascular health and overall longevity,” the scientists noted in their study, published in 2011 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Close up of head of broccoli plant
Photo by Karel Jakubec via Wikimedia

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
are a large part of the Asian diet. Studies
suggest the vegetables may promote
heart health.

In later work, the researchers tested the hypothesis that cruciferous vegetables lower inflammation, which is associated with heart disease. Investigators surveyed the diets and analyzed the blood of more than 1,000 middle-aged women in the Shanghai study and found those who ate more of these vegetables had fewer signs of inflammation.

Green tea is the most popular type consumed in China. An analysis of data on more than 70,000 women found it reduced the risk of digestive system cancers, especially colorectal, stomach and esophageal. The reduction was greatest for women who drank tea for at least 20 years, which suggests the benefit may be cumulative. While this investigation showed a positive effect of tea, other studies have been inconclusive.

The Shanghai Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University and NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) established the two large cohort studies. In addition to providing new insight into disease, the research projects incorporate training opportunities. For example, the lead author on a paper about the relationship between cruciferous vegetables and inflammation, Dr. Yu Jiang, was supported by a Fogarty chronic disease research training grant.

More Information

NIH resources:

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