In 2009, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a budget in excess of 6 billion dollars to spend on discovering “the” cause of cancer. It is already apparent, however, that our lifestyle choices have a significant impact on cancer risk, prevention, and treatment.
By exercising, eating fruits and vegetables, and consuming certain dietary agents, we can help protect our bodies against diseases such as cancer. In fact, 30 to 35 percent of all cancers may be associated with poor diets and nutritional habits, according to the NCI.
Boost Your Immune System
The first target for cancer prevention and survival should be the immune system. Natural killer (NK) blood cells serve by destroying dangerous cells and other invaders that can cause health problems. The greater the ability of the immune system to recognize cancer or precancerous cells, the more likely the body will be able to mount an effective immune response.
Cells need food for energy, strength, and proliferation. At the cellular level, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a critical component in energy production within every cell, especially highly active cells found in the immune system. The coenzyme is also a potent antioxidant, one of the most highlighted families of nutrients in cancer science.
The epitome of an immune vitamin is vitamin C. As an antioxidant, vitamin C can help protect healthy immune cells, but it also contributes by supporting production of antibodies, NK cell activities, and interferon, a natural body protein that helps direct the immune attack against tumors. Vitamin E and vitamin A specifically defend white blood cells and the thymus gland, the master immune gland responsible for the maturation of T-cells, as reported in the Journal of Nutrition in 2002.
Low levels of vitamin D also cause immune suppression. For years, researchers have suspected that insufficient vitamin D in the body might increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, but hard scientific proof has been lacking. A new study conducted by scientists at the German Cancer Research Center provides evidence that women with low blood levels of vitamin D clearly have a substantially increased risk of breast cancer.
Decreased vitamin D may also be associated with increased total cancer incidence and mortality in men, particularly for cancers of the digestive system, according to a study in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, of Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues examined vitamin D exposure and cancer incidence for 47,800 men. With increased vitamin D, there was a 17 percent reduction in total cancer incidence, a 29 percent reduction in total cancer mortality, and a 43 percent and 45 percent reduction in incidence and mortality from digestive system cancers. Another study at the University of California in San Diego showed that taking 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3 lowered colon cancer incidence by 50 percent and breast and ovarian cancer incidence by 30 percent.
The Power of Vegetables
Antioxidants are substances found in the food we eat or in enzymes made in our cells. They can also be manufactured into pills. Antioxidants can stop potentially harmful free radicals from attacking the genetic information in cells. Some foods containing antioxidants are citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, broccoli, peaches, and cabbage. Vitamins A, C, E, beta carotene, and the mineral selenium are being investigated for possible protective abilities against cancer.
Polyphenols are responsible for the bright pigments in fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, grapes, peppers, and tea. In addition to protecting cells and tissue from oxidative stress, polyphenols have demonstrated antitumor and anti-inflammatory actions that lend themselves to cancer management.
Choose colorful fruits and vegetables: the vitamin-rich, dark green leafy vegetables and other green vegetables as well as the red, yellow, and orange vegetables and fruits. Cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C), an antitumor agent known to suppress cancer cells. The cruciferous vegetables are bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips and their greens. A number of medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides found to be beneficial in influencing the production of antibodies and other immune system mediators.
Garlic possesses many immune actions, especially relative to cancer management. The NCI reported garlic and related allyl sulfur compounds had some cancer preventive effect. Thus, these garlic compounds damage cancer cells much more than they do normal, healthy cells.
Vegetables, especially those containing lycopene, affect the scope of HPV infection, possibly lowering the risk of cervical cancer. Further, dietary intakes of vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B12, and folic acid may help lower risk of cervical cancer. Women with cervical cancer have shown lower vaginal levels of CoQ10 and vitamin E.
People looking to prevent cancer or complement conventional cancer treatments should consider using nutritional supplements. Supplements cannot make any cancer claim. This is illegal, if not irresponsible. The FDA requires “sufficient,” but unspecified, scientific evidence to support any claim. By focusing on the immune benefits and supplying information on scientific research and statistics, practitioners can offer cancer-oriented patients the broad array of nutritional options available based on credible research.
An important study conducted by leading DHEA researcher Samuel Yen, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, shows the importance of DHEA and underscores the impact of the hormone on the immune system. Supplementation of 50 milligrams of DHEA in men (average age 63) showed dramatic improvement in all markers of immune function.
Make Time for Tea
In laboratory studies, catechins from green and black tea (crystalline compounds related chemically to the flavones, and used in dyeing and tanning) have demonstrated an ability to scavenge oxygen free radicals before cell damage occurs, reduce the incidence and size of tumors, and inhibit the growth of tumor cells. Although all tea is made from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, green tea is not processed as much as black tea and is, therefore, considered more potent.
A Little Wine
Resveratrol, found in red wine, grapes, raspberries, peanuts, and other plants, is a polyphenol produced by plants in defense of disease and injury. In addition to its strong antioxidant properties, resveratrol has many specific immune-enhancing and cancer-fighting actions, as reported in the International Journal of Oncology. While wine has many benefits, you would need to drink a lot of wine daily to get the cancer-fighting properties! It is best to take a high-quality resveratrol supplement.
Get Fit & Trim
At a time when nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight or obese, compelling evidence suggests that excess body weight is a risk factor for many cancers. There is a complex interaction among diet, physical activity, and genetics on growth and body weight over an individual’s lifetime and how those factors may influence cancer risk.
It is clear that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer by half, and can also reduce the risk of breast cancer among obese postmenopausal women. Obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25 to 30 percent of several major cancers—colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrial, kidney, and cancer of the esophagus.
Eat More Fiber
Dietary fiber is material from plant cells that humans cannot digest or can only partially digest. It helps move food through the intestines and out of the body, promoting a healthy digestive tract. A diet high in fiber and low in fat reduces the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.
Americans now eat about 11 grams of fiber daily. The NCI recommends that Americans double the amount of fiber they eat to between 20 and 30 grams daily. Foods high in fiber are also usually low in fat.
To add fiber to your diet, choose foods made with whole grains and whole-grain flours of all kinds: wheat, corn, rye, and oats. Eat foods like apples, peaches, pears, and potatoes with their skins. Choose cooked peas and beans.
Cut the Fat
Research has shown diets high in fat increase the risk of cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, and the lining of the uterus. Diets low in fat may reduce these risks while controlling weight. In the typical American diet, about 40 percent of calories come from fat; experts recommend 25 percent.
Results from the Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study (WINS), the first large-scale, randomized trial, showed that a change in diet can improve breast cancer outcomes in women receiving conventional treatment for early stage breast cancer.
Root Out Inflammation
Inflammation is a significant cause of cancer. It is important to find the individual cause of inflammation and remove the source rather than treating the symptom. Common causes of inflammation include the standard American diet, cortisol imbalance, toxins, and hidden food allergies. Researchers have long known that inflammation caused by infectious agents produce cytokines, chemicals that foster cancerous cell proliferation.
The Bottom Line
Good nutrition promotes health. But nutrition is only part of the story. Remember to also exercise each day, maintain desirable weight, get regular physical checkups, and follow these cancer-prevention tips:
- Enhance your immune system.
- Laugh and relax.
- Eat foods high in dietary fiber daily (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
- Choose foods low in dietary fat.
- Check your levels of vitamins D and DHEA.
- Ask your doctor for 2OH/16OH lab to determine your estrogen metabolism (A higher ratio of these two estrogen-by-products is more favorable, indicating less likelihood of breast cancer.).
- Avoid food allergies and infections.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
- Avoid too much sunlight; use safe, effective sunscreens.
- Avoid the toxins in personal hygiene products.
- DON’T SMOKE. Tobacco smoke causes about one-third of all cancer.