Fighting Cancer with Functional Foods
Research in Dr. Benninghoff’s laboratory centers on a key priority area for the U.S. Department of Agriculture – investigations on the function and efficacy of foods, specifically functional whole foods that promote gastrointestinal health. Her research team employs pre-clinical animal models to investigate the interactions of basal diet, functional foods and the gut microbiome on inflammation-associated colorectal cancer. Over the past five years, they have learned that consumption of a Western type diet markedly increased gut inflammation and development of colon tumors in mice. Moreover, in a multi-generation mouse study, her laboratory showed that ancestral (great-grandparent) exposure to this Western diet promoted colon tumor development in never-exposed, third-generation offspring. Conversely, Dr. Benninghoff’s team also study the potential beneficial effects of dietary intervention with foods rich in bioactive polyphenols, which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammation properties, such as green tea, tart cherries and black raspberries. Results from these studies show that the efficacy of dietary intervention with these functional foods depends on basal nutrition, with green tea and black raspberries effective in mice fed a Western diet and tart cherries effective only in mice fed a healthy diet. In a new project sponsored by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Benninghoff is continuing her promising work with black raspberries to determine whether their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer effects are mediated by the gut microbiome.