Nutritional Support for Cancer Prevention
Cancer is a dreaded disease, which is a leading cause of deaths throughout the world. While science has not found a cure for many types of cancer, advancement in medicine and technology has helped reduce deaths or prolong the lives of patients who have cancer. The choice and outcome of treatments often depend on the type of cancer, the stage when it was diagnosed, and the general health of the individual. But for most people, doctors and patients alike, the best way to deal with cancer is to avoid it or to reduce one’s chances of developing it.
There are many factors that can lead to the development of a tumor growth, or the multiplication of abnormal cells. No specific cause has been identified for most types of cancer, but scientists believe that a combination of factors is involved, including genetic, hereditary, racial and ethnic factors, environmental factors, and lifestyle factors. While it is impossible to control age, gender, and genetic factors, it is believed that more than half of all cancer-related deaths may be avoided by improving lifestyle and environmental factors. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society, more than 30% of cancers can be prevented by consuming a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, not smoking can also improve one’s chances of avoiding cancer, since smoking has been found to account for over 30% of cancers.
Several studies show that diet plays an important role in cancer prevention. Recent research suggests that diet may influence the risk of many types of cancer, including gastric, breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer. In general, high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fish has been linked with a reduced risk of cancer, while high intake of red meat, processed foods, dairy products, alcohol, and saturated fats increase the risk of many cancers. More research is needed regarding individual nutrients that are effective in cancer prevention, but experts recommend eating whole foods to ensure a balanced intake of cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Doctors often advise eating a diet that is composed of whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, tea, nuts and seeds, which work synergistically to protect the body against various chronic diseases, including cancer.
The Mediterranean-style diet has always been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, but recent studies also show that it can protect against various forms of cancer. This type of diet is characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, and a limited intake of red meats. Fruits and vegetables are known to contain many vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, and other components that help protect against cancer growth. Fatty fish are known for containing healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids, which have a healthier effect than the fats found in red meats. Whole grain foods increase fiber intake, which is also associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the digestive tract. Olive oil is a major characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, and is a major source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which are believed to protect against cancers of the digestive tract, breast and ovary.
Antioxidants and Cancer
Research has shown that foods that contain high levels of antioxidants may help prevent cancer. Antioxidants are chemicals that destroy free radicals, the by-products of normal metabolism, which can cause premature aging and other chronic conditions such as cancer. Foods that are rich in antioxidants include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, which have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Some of the best foods that have been considered to have anti-cancer properties include:
- Garlic, which is believed to promote DNA repair and kill cancer cells, may help protect against colon cancer and stomach cancer. Furthermore, other vegetables and herbs used for cooking foods, such as onions, leeks, scallions, and chives may also protect against cancer, as some research suggests.
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and kale contain glucosinolates, a phytochemical which produces protective enzymes that may reduce cancer risk, particularly against tumors of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.
- Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Laboratory tests also show that lycopene stops the growth of other types of cancer cells, including those of the breast, lungs, and the uterus. Researchers believe that lycopene boosts the immune system and interferes with the growth of abnormal cell growth.
- Strawberries and other types of berries are rich in antioxidants, which have been found to protect against heart disease, memory loss and cancer growth. They are rich in vitamin C, ellagic acid, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
- Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is believed to protect cell membranes from damage caused by toxins. Carrots also contain vitamins and phytochemicals that protect against cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and cervix.
- Spinach is a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are not only good for eyesight, but also for destroying free radicals. Other dark green leafy vegetables have also been shown to protect against cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, ovaries, lung, uterus and colon. Aside from these nutrients, leafy vegetables are also rich in fiber and folate, which helps repair DNA and prevent nervous system defects in the developing fetus.
- Whole grains are rich in fiber, lignans, and saponins, which help prevent colorectal cancer.
WebMD. Seven Easy to Find Foods That May Help Fight Cancer. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/features/seven-easy-to-find-foods-that-may-help-fight-cancer
WebMD. Anti-Cancer Diet. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/expert-qa-anti-cancer-diet-karen-collins
NIH. Components of Mediterranean diet in the prevention of cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3234016/
Huffington Post. Let Food Be Your Medicine: Diet and Cancer Prevention. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lorenzo-cohen-phd/diet-cancer-prevention_b_2665176.html