By: Jonathan Psenka, ND
It is well known by many doctors that the majority of cancers are preventable. Most cancers occur as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Smoking, poor diet, a lack of exercise, toxin exposure and high stress are all known to contribute to the development of cancer. Published estimates suggest that around 85 percent of cancers are caused by these poor lifestyle choices. The good news is that it is possible to drastically cut the risk of developing cancer by becoming familiar with the best ways to promote health.
Incorporating lifestyle changes into disease prevention program used to be considered “alternative” medicine, but now even conventional medicine is supporting the use of healthy diets, exercise and lowering stress levels. In fact, the American Cancer Society publishes specific lifestyle recommendations every five years in an attempt to educate both consumers and physicians. This information is available for free through the ACS website, www.caonline.amcancersoc.org.
The American Cancer Society recommendations suggest that people try to consume a mostly plant-based diet with minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. What the ACS doesn’t say is how large a serving is, nor what types of fruits and vegetables are the best to focus on. First off, it’s important to point out that a serving is typically only a half cup, so five servings really only add up to about two and a half cups. Also, it is important to know which foods offer the highest degree of disease protection, so that these foods can be incorporated into the diet. Some of the best plant foods for preventing cancer include dark skinned berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, tomatoes, pomegranates, turmeric and green tea.
The dark skinned berries have high levels of the substance known as ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is found is in many types of fruits including strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans and pomegranates, and especially in red raspberries. Ellagic acid has been found to have substantial anti-cancer properties, as well as strong anti-oxidant capabilities. This natural substance promotes it’s anti-cancer effects through a couple of different mechanisms. Ellagic acid has been found to stop the growth of many types of cancer cells, including cervical, prostate, breast, colon, pancreatic, esophageal and skin cancer lines. Ellagic acid stops cancer growth by interfering with a particular part of the cancer cell’s reproductive cycle. When these cells can no longer reproduce, they eventually die without making any new cells. In some studies this effect was seen within 48 hours of taking ellagic acid. Other studies have shown that ellagic acid has the ability to prevent the effects of toxins known to cause cancer. The ellagic acid prevents toxins from binding to DNA, so that cancerous growth cannot be genetically promoted. Eating foods which contain ellagic acid may be more beneficial than taking supplements containing ellagic acid.
Lycopene is another substance that is found in plants which has shown substantial anti-cancer action. Lycopenes are a class of substances known as bioflavinoids, which are closely related to carotenes. In fact, as a class of substances lycopenes are the major type of carotene found in human blood and serum. Lycopene is found mainly in red vegetables and fruits. Tomatoes, especially sun dried ones, provide the greatest amount of lycopene, although foods like watermelons, red grapefruits, apricots and guava also contain high levels of lycopene. Several studies have shown that diets high in lycopene containing foods are inversely related to prostate cancer risk. So, the more lycopene rich foods a man eats, the lower his chances of developing prostate cancer. The protective effects of lycopenes extend beyond prostate cancer to other types of types of cancer as well. Most of lycopene’s anti-cancer effect is thought to due to its exceptional anti-oxidant capacity.
Third on the list of foods that prevent cancer is the Indian herb turmeric. Turmeric is mostly known as the spice that adds a yellow color to many Indian foods. Over the past five years turmeric, and especially the turmeric derivative curcumin, has shown outstanding cancer preventing properties. Curcumin has shown great potential in preventing many types of cancers, including breast, cervical, colon, gastric, hepatic, leukemia, oral epithelial, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate. In addition to being a fantastic food for cancer prevention, curcumin has also been shown to be very beneficial for people who are actively fighting cancer as well. Although this turmeric extract has more than one known mechanism of action, most of it’s impressive activity is due to it being an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. As an potent anti-inflammatory, it has been suggested that curcumin may also be beneficial in treating diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis, pancreatitis, psoriasis and arthritis. The best part is that it tastes good too!
Next on the list is pomegranates. Pomegranates, or Punica granatum, are an excellent source of dietary antioxidants which have shown great promise as chemoprevention agents. The term chemoprevention is a relatively new one that is used to describe substances which have cancer preventative actions. Due to being full of potent anti-oxidant substances, pomegranates have been recognized as having preventative properties against several cancers such as head and neck cancers, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Pomegranates have also been shown to have properties which inhibit cancer cells from reproducing quickly (anti-proliferative action). Newer research indicates that pomegranates also can help prevent cancer by acting to enhance the removal cancer causing toxins from the body.
The last food on the list really isn’t a food at all, but a beverage. The drink is green tea, and the plant from which it comes is known as Cameilla sinensis. Green tea, like curcumin, has a multitude of research supporting it’s use in both cancer prevention and cancer therapy. Green tea’s amazing anti-cancer properties are mainly due to it’s high content of polyphenols such as EGCG. EGCG, otherwise known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, is a remarkable substance which has anti-oxidant properties, helps the body to remove toxins, assists in regulating cancer cell growth, inhibits tumors from growing new blood vessels via a process known as angiogenesis, inhibits cancer promoting inflammation, AND has demonstrated the ability to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells alone. Green tea is truly a great cancer fighter. To get the most benefit out of drinking green tea a person should try to drink 4-5 cups per day. Some people feel that many store bought green teas have a “grassy” flavor that is hard to overcome. Buying a higher quality bulk tea or “gun powder” green tea from your local Chinese or Japanese grocer usually results in a better tasting tea. Green tea also makes wonderful iced tea too. Just mix in a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice with a little stevia and enjoy.
By choosing a diet that is rich in foods with proven cancer fighting abilities it’s possible to decrease the chance of developing cancer. By combining a healthy diet with other positive lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, toxin avoidance, and using stress reduction techniques, a person can decrease their chance of not only developing cancer, but many other serious disease as well. These foods- berries, tomatoes, turmeric, pomegranates, and green tea- should also be considered by people who are actively fighting cancer as well. Additionally, many of the substances mentioned, such as curcumin and EGCG, can also be taken in supplement form when there is a need for increased dosages. Remember to discuss taking new supplements with your doctor before you actually begin taking them.
About Dr. Jonathan Psenka:
Dr. Jonathan Psenka is a licensed Naturopathic Physician practicing in Phoenix, Arizona. His practice philosophy is based on a commitment to providing patients with the knowledge they need to be active participants in their own healthcare. He uses a wide variety of holistic therapies and tailors each patient’s treatment to his or her individual needs. Dr. Psenka believes that in order to successfully fight disease it is necessary to address not only the symptoms, but also the potential causes and risk factors as well.