How Is Cancer Linked to What We Eat?

This morning I attended a lecture on plant physiology and I learned about the most efficient plant-based foods that can prevent cancer or can be used in association with chemotherapy. I also learned that in a class of fifty people only one person is completely healthy and the rest have pre-cancerous cells that may lie dormant for up to four decades. While we can’t avoid being affected by our genetics, environmental conditions or infections, we certainly can alter our lifestyles in order to ensure a healthy body and mind.

The major risk factors in developing cancer are:

  • Food (30%) – What we put in our bodies often signs our death certificate sooner or later. Nowadays western societies have developed a fast-paced style of doing things and taking the time to cook properly, sit down and enjoy what’s on our plates is seen as a waste of time in most of the cases. The alternative option is offered by fast-food restaurants, takeaways or processed ready meals and it can easily fall into a routine because of our lack of time. In developed countries food has an overall reduced quality because it contains preservatives, dyes and it undergoes numerous processes meant to prolog its shelf-life. While in Asia food is seen as a source of health, in the West it’s merely a source of energy that keeps us going throughout the day.
  • Smoking (30%) – The effects of smoking on the human body are well-known and numerous studies have shown that it leads to smoking-related cancers (42,800 deaths each year in the UK), cardiovascular disease (30,600 deaths each year in the UK), and nearly 30,000 people die each year in the UK because of emphysema, bronchitis and other chronic lung diseases.
  • Hereditary factors (15%) – Even though a person’s genetics is a less impacting factor in developing cancer than food and smoking, it is still to be considered. People who have a predisposition for cancer should pay special attention to what they eat and the vicious habits they engage in their daily lives.
  • Ultraviolet radiation, pollution, drugs, infections, alcohol, obesity and other factors are also responsible for the onset of cancer, yet in smaller percentages. Obesity accounts for 35% of the colon cancer cases in men and 65% of the uterine cancer cases in women. I will explain later how obesity and cancer are closely interlinked.

The least cases of cancer are in India, Thailand and China because they have a diet based on fruits and vegetables, compared to Czech Republic, Hungary and the USA, where is the highest incidence due to an increased consumption of red meat and processed foods.

Cancer is basically the malfunction of a cell that goes into division and invades the proximal tissues, forming new blood vessels (angiogenesis). The progression of cancer can take one to forty years but it can only be clinically identified in the pre-terminal and terminal stages. A person is declared cured if the treated cancer doesn’t relapse for at least 5 years. Cancers with the highest percentage of healing (70%) are breast cancer and prostate cancer, and the ones with a lesser chance of healing (20%) are lung cancer, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

The treatment for cancer is limited to surgical interventions when the tumor is localized and incipient, radiotherapy with X rays, and chemotherapy with intravenous drug administration. Chemotherapy is by far the most common treatment for sick patients but it is very traumatizing because the drugs that are used are extremely toxic and in the end the rate of success weighs on how much a person’s body can resist the chemical abuse.

A new form of treatment was developed in the past 5 years and it showed better results. The metronomic treatment is a mild form of chemotherapy, but the drugs are administered more often in lower doses and the procedure is associated with a strict diet. It is important to remember that a diet by itself CANNOT cure cancer, but it can increase the efficiency of the treatment.

Sources of food that can be used for the prevention of cancer or that can form a diet that assists chemical cancer treatments:

1. The cabbage family

It includes red cabbage, white cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, radish and others. They are meant to be consumed raw, steamed or quickly fried, at least three times each week. The active substances (polyphenols and glucosinolates) contained in these vegetables are helpful in leukemia, bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer. Keep in mind that Brussels sprouts have the highest amount of glucosinolates.

2. Onion, garlic and leek

They contain high amounts of polyphenols that are active in stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer, reducing by 70% the risk of development. They should be eaten raw because the active substances in the vacuoles can easily be damaged by cooking.

3. Soya

Soya in all its forms is a healthy source of phytoestrogen and it is a basic food in Japan (at least 65 g/day), while in Europe it is less appreciated (1 g/day). Phytoestrogen blocks cell division and tumor growth, being useful in breast cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer. Obesity favors the synthesis of sexual hormones in excess, which can trigger the onset of cancer but phytoestrogens function as anti-estrogen compounds by blocking the estrogen cell receptor and therefore stops the cell from going into division.

4. Turmeric

The active substance in turmeric is curcumin and it is useful in stomach cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, liver and colon cancer. It inhibits angiogenesis and cell division and its potency is increased by a thousand times when pepper is ingested with it.

5. Green tea

Did you know that 15 000 cups of green tea are consumed worldwide each second? This isn’t the only most consumed drink in the world, but it is also very healthy because it contains polyphenols that have antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is useful in melanoma, kidney cancer, leukemia, prostate and breast cancer. The strongest green tea is Sencha (the Japanese ryokucha) which is made into the green tea beverage by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. Green tea can be a very potent natural drug if consumed three times per day for a long period of time.

6. Berries

This group includes strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and others. It containts polyphenols (ellagic acid) that prevent tumor proliferation and inhibits cell division. The antocyanins they contain give them color, maintain tumor latency and reduce estrogen synthesis.

7. Omega-3 fatty acids

They can be found in plants (walnuts, pine seeds, green algae, olive oil) and in animals (salmon, sardines, trout and tuna). Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t synthesized within the human body, therefore it is essential they are taken from foods. It is advised to consume fish twice each week and a fistful of walnuts each day. These compounds protect the cardiovascular system, reduce cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory properties. They are useful in pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

8. Tomatoes

They contain an active substance called lycopene that has the highest concentration in tomato paste. It is ideal to eat tomatoes or their derived products at least twice a week as it is very useful in preventing prostate cancer.

9. Citrus fruits

They contain active substances that are good antioxidants against esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, laryngeal cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia. It is important to remember that grapefruit shouldn’t be consumed when following a prescribed drug treatment as it tends to accumulate drugs within the body, preventing them from being eliminated. The high amounts of drugs that accumulate can sometimes lead to death.

10. Red wine

The recommended dose of red wine each day is 250 ml because it can decrease the risk of death by 25-30 % due to cancer or cardiovascular disease. Red wine contains resveratrol, a substance that reduces cholesterol, inhibits blood clotting and it is very active in breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and esophageal cancer. In countries where the consumption of red wine is reduced there is a higher mortality caused by heart disease (Finland, USA, Canada), while in Italy and France, where high quantities are consumed, the incidence of such disease is extremely reduced. Also, it is important to remember that red wine’s potency is 6 times over that of white wine.

11. Dark chocolate

This product is obtained from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree and it contains polyphenols that are active in cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancers. The recommended daily dose is 40 grams.

Lastly, there are certain foods that you need to avoid if you want to prevent cancer development:

– pickles

– smoked foods

– fast-food

– excessive amounts of alcohol

– foods that have been fried in oil for a long period of time

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