NYMC Faculty Publications


The Role of Alliums and Their Sulfur and Selenium Constituents in Cancer Prevention

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Garlic and its sulfur and selenium-containing components are widely known for their cancer preventive activities primarily in preclinical in vitro and in vivo model systems. Most of our common foods including garlic contain very low levels of selenium compounds relative to those of sulfur. Humans consume a substantial portion of their dietary sulfur and selenium in organic forms. Selenium-enriched foods such as garlic, broccoli and wheat are more effective chemopreventive agents than the corresponding regular dietary items. Naturally occurring and synthetic organoselenium compounds are superior cancer chemopreventive agents compared to their corresponding sulfur analogs. Mechanistic studies demonstrate that sulfur and selenium compounds are capable of cell growth inhibition, cell cycle arrest, induction of apoptosis, alterations of phase I and phase II enzyme activities, and histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibition. The fact that organosulfur and organoselenium compounds can target multiple pathways suggests that these agents can be used directly as chemopreventive and/or therapeutic agents or in combination with other medicinal compounds. The effect of these agents on the aforementioned parameters varies depending on the dose and form (structure) and whether cells are normal or transformed. Whether the protective effects observed in animals and in cell cultures can be applicable to humans remain to be determined. Thus, studies using genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic techniques in well designed small-scale clinical trials are needed to unequivocally evaluate the potential of allium vegetable constituents on biomarkers of risk for specific cancers prior to entering into long-term expensive phase III clinical chemoprevention trials.