The Health Benefits of Diindolylmethane

Can This Vegetable Compound Fight Cancer?

Organic Broccoli just harvested
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Diindolylmethane is a natural substance generated when the body breaks down indole-3-carbinol, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale. Available in supplement form, diindolylmethane is said to offer a range of health benefits.

Health Benefits

Diindolylmethane is purported to produce changes in estrogen metabolism, a biological process thought to influence the development of certain hormone-dependent cancers such as breast cancer. Proponents claim that consuming diindolylmethane can help increase your defense against several types of cancer, as well as promote detoxification and support weight loss.

To date, research on the health effects of diindolylmethane is fairly limited. In preliminary research, some scientists have found that diindolylmethane can influence the body's metabolism of estrogen. 

While it's thought that altering estrogen metabolism may help protect against certain hormone-dependent cancers (such as breast cancer), there's not yet enough research to determine whether diindolylmethane can aid in cancer prevention. 

Here's a look at some key findings from the available studies:

Breast Cancer

Although some laboratory studies suggest that diindolylmethane may help inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells, there have been few clinical studies.

In a small 2004 pilot study published in Nutrition and Cancer, researchers found that taking diindolylmethane supplements led to changes in estrogen metabolism. The study involved 19 post-menopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer.

A 2015 study published in Familial Cancer examined the use of 300 mg per day of diindolylmethane for four to six weeks in fifteen women with a BRCA1 mutation. The urinary estrogen ratio (a biomarker inversely related to breast cancer development) didn't significantly change after supplementation. 

Cervical Cancer

Although some data have suggested that taking diindolylmethane supplements may slow the development of cervical cancer, a 2012 study published in the British Journal of Cancer failed to show any benefit. The study involved 551 women with newly diagnosed, low-grade abnormalities in cervical cells. For six months, participants took either diindolylmethane supplements or a placebo daily. Diindolylmethane supplements failed to have a significant beneficial effect on cervical cell changes or the presence of HPV.

Other Forms of Cancer

Preliminary findings from test-tube studies and animal-based research indicate that diindolylmethane may offer some protection against prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. However, due to a lack of research, it's too soon to tell whether diindolylmethane may help fight these forms of cancer in humans.

Weight Loss

Although diindolylmethane supplements are sometimes touted as natural weight loss aids, there's no scientific evidence to support the claim that taking diindolylmethane promotes weight loss.

Possible Side Effects

To date, very little is known about the safety of using diindolylmethane supplements regularly or in the long term.

Due to diindolylmethane's potential to affect estrogen metabolism, there's some concern that taking diindolylmethane supplements could aggravate hormone-sensitive conditions (including hormone-dependent cancers, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids).

According to one report, an otherwise healthy woman reported central serous chorioretinopathy—a condition resulting in visual impairment—after excessive daily intake of diindolylmethane for two months. After discontinuing the supplements, her symptoms resolved after eight weeks.

A skin rash with eosinophilia (raised levels of eosinophils often occurring in response to some form of allergic reaction or drug reaction) was reported following the use of diindolylmethane. Muscle and joint pain, particularly in the hips and knees, have been reported.

Given the safety concerns, it's important to seek medical advice prior to using diindolylmethane supplements. Women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn't take diindolylmethane supplements. Also, people who are being treated for cancer shouldn't take it.

You can get additional tips on using supplements but it's important to note that self-treating a chronic condition with diindolylmethane and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific evidence to determine a safe or effective dose of diindolylmethane supplements. Health sources advise consumers that natural supplements are not always safe and dose can have a significant impact on side effects and safety. It is important to get personalized advice from your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dose for you.

What to Look For

Diindolylmethane is produced when the body digests indole-3-carbinol, a compound found in the following vegetables:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Watercress

Diindolylmethane is also available in supplement form, sold in natural-food stores and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Due to a lack of scientific support, it's too soon to recommend diindolylmethane supplements as a standard treatment for any health condition.

However, increasing your diindolylmethane levels by including indole-3-carbinol-containing cruciferous vegetables in your diet may help enhance your overall health. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in a number of health-promoting substances, including antioxidants.

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Article Sources

  • Diindolylmethane. Natural Medicines Database. Professional Monograph. 2/6/2019

  • Diindolylmethane. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs, Botanicals, and Other Products. October 16, 2018

  • Castañon A, Tristram A, Mesher D, et al. Effect of diindolylmethane supplementation on low-grade cervical cytological abnormalities: double-blind, randomised, controlled trial. Br J Cancer. 2012 Jan 3;106(1):45-52. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.496.
  • Dalessandri KM, Firestone GL, Fitch MD, Bradlow HL, Bjeldanes LF. Pilot study: effect of 3,3'-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(2):161-7.
  • Nikitina D, Llacuachaqui M, Sepkovic D, et al. The effect of oral 3,3'-diindolylmethane supplementation on the 2:16α-OHE ratio in BRCA1 mutation carriers. Fam Cancer. 2015 Jun;14(2):281-6. doi: 10.1007/s10689-015-9783-2.
  • Smith S, Sepkovic D, Bradlow HL, Auborn KJ. 3,3'-Diindolylmethane and genistein decrease the adverse effects of estrogen in LNCaP and PC-3 prostate cancer cells. J Nutr. 2008 Dec;138(12):2379-85.
  • Staub RE, Onisko B, Bjeldanes LF. Fate of 3,3'-diindolylmethane in cultured MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Chem Res Toxicol. 2006 Mar;19(3):436-42.