Multi-Vitamins, Folate, and Green Vegetables Protect Against Gene Promoter Methylation in the Aerodigestive Tract of Smokers

The detection of gene promoter hypermethylation in sputum is a promising molecular marker for early lung cancer detection. Epidemiologic studies suggest that dietary fruits and vegetables and the micronutrients they contain may reduce risk of lung cancer. This investigation evaluated whether diet and multi-vitamin use influence the prevalence for gene methylation in the cells exfoliated from the aerodigestive tract of current and former smokers. Members (n = 1101) of the Lovelace Smokers Cohort completed the Harvard Food Frequency Questionnaire and provided a sputum sample that was assessed for promoter methylation of eight genes commonly silenced in lung cancer and associated with risk for this disease. Methylation status was categorized as low (< 2 genes methylated) or high (≥2 genes methylated). Logistic regression models were used to identify associations between methylation status and 21 dietary variables hypothesized to affect the acquisition of gene methylation. Significant protection against methylation was observed for leafy green vegetables (OR = 0.83 per 12 monthly servings, CI: 0.74, 0.93) and folate (OR = 0.84 per 750 mcg/day, CI: 0.72, 0.99). Protection against gene methylation was also seen with current use of multi-vitamins (OR = 0.57, CI: 0.40, 0.83). This is the first cohort-based study to identify dietary factors associated with reduced promoter methylation in cells exfoliated from the airway epithelium of smokers. Novel interventions to prevent lung cancer should be developed based on the ability of diet and dietary supplements to affect reprogramming of the epigenome.