7 Powerful Ways To Fight Cancer With Food

Most of us are aware that February is American Heart Month. Did you know that February is also focused on cancer prevention? That’s right–February 4th is World Cancer Day. This day is a global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) (1). The World Cancer Day website offers multiple healthy lifestyle choices and prevention strategies to reduce the risk of developing cancer. These recommendations include stopping smoking, reducing or limiting alcohol intake, incorporating more physical activity, and limiting exposure to ultraviolet radiation (2). While these are important aspects to consider in reducing our cancer risk, one major aspect that is not addressed is nutrition! The current standard of care in cancer treatment focuses on a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but very few oncologists know about or advise patients regarding the role nutrition can play in the prevention and treatment of various cancers. Up to 35% of all cancer is potentially linked to diet (3)! With this empowering fact, let’s take a look at 7 recommendations for using nutrition to prevent, reverse, and treat cancer.

Fill up on fiber

Dietary fiber can have beneficial effects on cancer by multiple mechanisms. First, it increases bowel frequency and speeds up the time it takes for food to move through your intestines. This helps remove excess hormones that can contribute to cancer and reduce the time that cancer-causing foods spend sitting in your gut (3). All plant foods (and only plant foods) contain fiber, so fill up your plate with plants.

Phytates

Phytates are natural compounds in whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Phytates exert effects on cancer cells in multiple ways. They boost the activity of cells that seek out and destroy cancer cells. They also disrupt the blood supply that feeds tumors and allows them to survive and grow. Finally, phytates can cause cancer cells to return to normal and stop acting like cancer (4). Fight cancer with phytates!

Eat the Rainbow

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and other phytonutrients that benefit your health. The more colorful your plate is, the more likely it is to include an abundance of cancer-fighting compounds.

Fruits

Even though all colorful fruits contain beneficial phytonutrients, one, in particular, has a powerful effect on your DNA. Research shows that citrus fruit boosts DNA repair within two hours of consuming it! In addition, certain compounds in citrus fruit cause your DNA to become much more resistant to damage. This is likely why citrus consumption is associated with a lower breast and skin cancer risk. The compounds responsible for this benefit are also found in the peel, so consider zesting your citrus fruits for an added advantage (5). Speaking as a pharmacist, one crucial point to consider as you are consuming more citrus is to notify your doctor or pharmacist if you eat grapefruit. Certain compounds in grapefruit can inhibit the enzymes required to break down many prescription medications, which can lead to higher levels of these medications in your body.

Vegetables

Vegetables also have powerful cancer-fighting phytonutrients and compounds. One interesting fact is that certain vegetables may target specific cancers. Let’s take radishes, for example. They do not stop pancreatic cancer cell growth but are 100 percent effective against the growth of stomach cancer. Along the same line, orange bell peppers were useless against stomach cancer and were able to halt prostate cancer cell growth by more than 75 percent (6). The bottom line here is to include a wide variety of vegetables in your diet, giving you the best chance to incorporate as many cancer-fighting phytochemicals as possible.

Enjoy Soy

Soy products have been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer and also a reduced risk of recurrence in those who have been previously treated. One way that soy may do this is through its effects on the BRCA genes. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that are responsible for DNA repair. Even though mutations in these genes are possible, in most breast cancer patients, these genes are fully functional. However, breast tumors appear to have the ability to alter these genes. Therefore, even though the genes appear fully functional, they are essentially turned off. Fortunately, compounds in soy, called isoflavones, turn the BRCA genes back on. Soy also has beneficial effects on multiple other breast cancer genes as well as helping to reduce postmenopausal symptoms (7). So, if you switch to soy milk or add more edamame, enjoy more soy!

Spice things up

Although we frequently think of fruits and vegetables as beneficial cancer fighters, many of us may forget about one other category: spices! Spices can have powerful effects on our bodies, including cancer prevention. One that I would like to focus on is curcumin, the bright yellow pigment in turmeric. Not only is curcumin beneficial in preventing cancer development, but it can also stop cancer cell growth after it has already started. All cells, cancer or otherwise, are preprogrammed to die at some point in their life cycle to make room for new cells. Cancer cells have figured out a way to disable this mechanism, which explains why they can continue to thrive and multiply. This is where curcumin comes in! It can reactivate the self-destruct mechanism back into cancer cells (8). Curcumin is also effective against a variety of other cancer cells. Considering these powerful effects, try incorporating more turmeric into your diet!

In conclusion, incorporating more plants into your diet can significantly reduce your risk of cancer and improve your odds of remission and survival. The majority of people have either been directly affected by cancer or personally know someone who has been affected. In honor of these individuals and of World Cancer Day, let’s increase our intake of plants and their powerful cancer-fighting compounds! Maybe try a smoothie with berries, carrots, oats, soy milk, and a dash of turmeric. See how many cancer-fighting compounds you can incorporate!


1.) About us: World cancer day. About us | World Cancer Day. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.worldcancerday.org/about-us
 
2.) Explore the key issue: cancer prevention and risk reduction. World Cancer Day. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://www.worldcancerday.org/prevention-and-risk-reduction
 
3.) Kassam, S., Kassam, Z., & Simon, L. (2022). Plant-Based Nutrition and Cancer. In Plant-based nutrition in clinical practice (pp. 69–82). essay, Hammersmith Health Books.
 
4.) Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2018). Phytates. In How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease (pp. 66–67). essay, Pan Books.
 
5.) Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2018). Citrus. In How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease (pp. 301–302). essay, Pan Books.
 
6.) Chu, Y.-F., Sun, J., Wu, X., & Liu, R. H. (2002). Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common vegetables. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(23), 6910–6916. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf020665f
 
7.) Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2018). Soy and Breast Cancer. In How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease (pp. 195–197). essay, Pan Books.
 
8.) Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2018). Carcinogen-Blocking Effects of Turmeric. In How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease (pp. 34–36). essay, Pan Books.

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