Is there value in DIET to prevent or treat cancer? Healthy diets are important for general well-being. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables continues to be beneficial. Researchers are now investigating the connection of diet’s role during many of the disease states, including cancer. Dietary factors may be looked at as a part of treatment and recovery as well as help conventional cancer therapy and prevent the cancerous cells from spreading to other areas of the body. The focus on physical activity, a heart-healthy diet and weight control seem to be the best defenses to prevent disease and promote a healthy life.
According to a report issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization, being overweight accounts for one-quarter to one-third of cases of breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney and esophageal cancer worldwide. Research shows that fat cells can act as hormone pumps, secreting hormones and other growth factors into the bloodstream. If someone is overweight, the pumps work overtimes. If the body’s cells are exposed to very high levels of these hormones/growth factors over a long period of time, they tend to reproduce more quickly and this can increase the chances that cancer can find a place to grip onto.
The foundation of a healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains – which in turn contain fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and more. Researchers aren’t sure which components are responsible for preventing cancer and other diseases, but they do agree that by including these types of foods you are providing your body nutrient-dense foods that are naturally fat-free, low in calories and important component of a weigh-control eating plan. These experts recommend eating a wide variety of plant-based foods in particular.
Incorporating low fat, plant based foods are essential to wellness and disease prevention. Studies have shown low fat diets can reduce the risk of some cancers. For instance, researchers report from the National Cancer Institute Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study that by significantly lowering dietary fat, it may reduce the risk breast cancer recurrences in postmenopausal women treated for early-stage breast cancer. By consuming a diet that is rich in plant food, it seems to avoid excess amounts of high saturated fat foods – leading back to the point of limiting your total fat intake.
What about specific vitamins and minerals? There is no one vitamin or mineral that will prevent disease but there are some studies that show certain nutrients can have an effect on prevention. Folate just happens to be one of them. In a study of the effects of folate on more than 27,000 male smokers between ages 50 – 69, men who consumed about 400 milligrams (the recommended daily allowance) decreased their risk of developing pancreatic cancer in half. Cancer-fighting foods rich in folate include orange juice, spinach, romaine lettuce, dried beans, peanuts, orange, asparagus, cereals and pastas. As you can see, the foods once again listed include your fruits, vegetables, grains and low fat items.
Research suggests that vitamin D, fat-soluble vitamin, may also build protection against cancer by curbing the growth of cancerous cells. A report presented by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) showed a link between reduced breast cancer risk and increased vitamin D intake. It lowered the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 50%. According to their recommendations, the current RDA of 400 international units may be too low. Higher amounts may actually prove better (~1000 IU) and considered to be safe and have a protective effect. Keep in mind, whole foods work well to get that vitamin D in there – milk, seafood, eggs and good old’ sunshine are good sources of vitamin D.
Tea is another promising source of anti-cancer agents. Tea contains flavoniods, specifically kaempferol, which has been shown to protect against cancer. A study evaluating kaempferol intake of more than 66,000 women showed that those who consumed the most of it had the lowest risk of developing ovarian cancer ovarian cancer. Researcher Margaret Gates, a doctoral candidate at Harvard’sSchool of Public Health, suggests that consuming between 10 milligrams and 12 milligrams daily of kaempferol — the amount found in four cups of tea –offers protection against ovarian cancer.
Now there are more reasons to include vegetables, specifically cruciferous types (members of the cabbage family like kale, turnip greens, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts). In lab experiments, cruciferous vegetables produced substances producing cancer-killing effects when cut or chewed. Most studies show positive effects in regards to prostate and colon cancers. Interestingly enough, the protective effects of these cruciferous vegetables seem to have more effect when they are cut or chewed – not whole.
American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention:
- Eat a variety of healthful foods, with an emphasis on plant sources.
- Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains and sugars.
- Limit consumption of red meats, especially those high in fat and processed.
- Choose foods that maintain a healthful weight.
- Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
- Adults: engage in at least moderate activity for 30 minutes or more on 5 or more days of the week; 45 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity on 5 or more days per week may further enhance reductions in the risk of breast and colon cancer.
- Children and adolescents: engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least 5 days per week.
- Maintain a healthful weight throughout life.
- Balance caloric intake with physical activity.
- Lose weight if currently overweight or obese.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.
Unfortunately there is no one perfect food or nutrient to completely reduce your risk but by combining different foods and behaviors you can reap the biggest health benefits. Overall healthy diet and lifestyle patterns are associated with a decreased risk of disease.