01 Jun Diet for Cancer Prevention
The intake form I use in my clinic asks patients to reveal their family medical history. Time and again, I find myself struck by the number of people who note a close relative who has suffered cancer. I include myself in this category too; having had three grandparents suffer from various forms of cancer. The statistics regarding most forms of cancer are worsening on a yearly basis. On the bright side, there is much that each of us can do to reduce his or her risk of developing cancer. In many cases, this is true regardless of our genetic inheritance.
This month’s newsletter focuses on dietary changes you can make to decrease your risk of cancer. Here are a few things you can do:
1) Control your weight:
Research suggests that, in addition to increased risk of other diseases, being obese also raises the risk of breast, colon, endometrial, uterine, esophageal, and kidney cancers. Weight reduction has been found to decrease that risk. Diets low in fat (particularly saturated fats found mainly in animal products), have been found to correlate with lower risk of some cancers and may even be protective once cancerous changes have begun. In addition, decreasing your intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates may decrease cancer risk. Eat a sensible diet rich in nutrient-dense foods to maintain and decrease weight. Focus on eating as many natural, unprocessed foods as you can. (See my June 2006 newsletter for more information about healthy eating and weight loss).
2) Decrease your alcohol consumption:
Drinking alcohol has been linked with an increased likelihood of several forms of cancer. Research has shown that two or more alcoholic beverages a day for a man, and one or more drinks for a woman increase the risk of breast cancer, liver cancer, and mouth, pharyngeal, throat and laryngeal cancers. In fact, regular consumption of just a few drinks on a weekly basis is associated with a significant increase in the risk of breast cancer in women. Decreasing your alcohol consumption decreases the risk, and former drinkers have a significantly lower risk than those who currently drink. Many of my patients ask about cardiovascular benefits of drinking alcohol. My belief is that anything in moderation is good for you. A small amount of alcohol (just like chocolate!) on an occasional basis is acceptable and may even be healthy. However, binge drinking or drinking on a regular basis is never a good idea.
3) Your mother was right: eat your fruits and vegetables!
Eating fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of most common cancers. Fruits and vegetables contain potent “phytochemicals” (plant chemicals) which help to decrease the risk of many cancers. A rule of thumb I mention to my patients is that darkly pigmented fruits and vegetables are generally higher in these protective compounds. In addition, I stress that the more varied your diet, the more likely you are to benefit from many of these compounds.
Some of these phytochemicals are heat sensitive so consuming at least some of your daily intake of fruits and vegetables raw or lightly steamed is a great idea. Juicing is another great way to get many nutrients out of fruits and vegetables (but be aware of concentrated sugar, particularly in fruit juices).
There are a few fruits and vegetables that may be particularly helpful. These include the following: garlic, onions, leeks, parsley, carrots, spinach, kale, squash, sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), legumes (especially fermented soy like tempeh and miso), tomatoes, berries, peppers, mushrooms (particularly shitake and maitake).
Turmeric is an important spice which you should add to your food whenever you can. It has been found to cause apoptosis (self destruction) of some types cancer cells.
4) Decrease consumption of meat:
Vegetarians are less likely to develop cancer. This is likely a combination effect: vegetarian foods are protective against cancer, and eating meats may increase cancer risk. Eating foods higher in the food chain exposes us to many more toxins (pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc). In addition, diets high in saturated fats, which are mostly found in meats also increase cancer risk. Vegetarians have lower incidences of breast and uterine cancers. This may be explained by the fact that meat eaters have higher estrogen levels (due to hormones injected into our meat and poultry).
The way you prepare meat if you eat it is also important. Frying, broiling, and grilling at high temperatures may create carcinogens in your food which cause damage to the DNA in our cells. Cooking at lower temperatures (steaming, poaching, stewing, and braising) are healthier methods of cooking all foods.
Certainly, research has shown that processed meats (such as deli meats, hot dogs and hams) and those preserved by salting or smoking increase exposure to carcinogenic agents. These foods should be avoided as much as possible.
5) Eat lots of fiber:
Fiber (found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) has been found to be protective against many forms of cancer including breast, colon, rectum, uterine, oral, throat, liver, thyroid, pancreas, and stomach cancers as well as lymphomas. Most research has focused on insoluble fiber (mostly found in whole grains). Increasing your intake of this fiber is relatively easy. Firstly, avoid white flour and white rice. Also, increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Aim for 30 grams of fiber intake a day.
6) Eat wild cold water fish up to three times a week (or take an essential fatty acid supplement):
Eating fish may lower the risk of many cancers including oral cancers; stomach, colon, and rectal cancers; pancreatic, lung, breast, and prostate cancers. Essential fatty acids found in fish suppress cancer formation and slow cancer progression. Other foods rich in omega three fatty acid include flaxseed oil and walnuts.
7) Drink tea:
Teas (especially green tea) are high in antioxidants. Green tea protects against all stages of cancer- from initiation to progression. My patients often ask about decaffeinated teas- they may be as beneficial as long as the process of decaffeination is achieved through water and not solvents. Aim to have a couple of cups of green tea a day (perhaps as a substitute for coffee).
8) Decrease your consumption of salt:
Diets high in salted and pickled foods increase the risk of stomach, nasopharyngeal, and throat cancer. Diets low in sodium (which comes mainly from salt) are thought to be healthier in general. Substitute herbs, fresh or dried, to enhance the taste and nutrition value of your food.
9) Drink your water:
Water is essential in removing toxins from our bodies (through the urine, sweat, and feces). Drinking eight cups of water a day has been shown to reduce bladder cancer risk since water dilutes the concentration of carcinogenic agents in the urine and reduces their contact with the bladder lining.
10) What about supplements:
Supplements can be helpful in decreasing cancer risks but they do not replace a healthful diet. In addition, be aware that not all supplements are safe. For example, synthetic beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer in current and former smokers. Also, excessive use of supplements may increase risk of some forms of cancer. I advise my patients who are in general good health to take a multi vitamin and essential fatty acid supplement daily and to strive to consume a varied diet rich in nutritional value.
Cancer prevention is a life-long goal which requires a healthy and clean lifestyle. Begin by making small changes in your diet. They will improve general health and vitality and may be your best protection against cancer.
Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. You are free to use the information in this newsletter or pass it on to others, but please keep it intact and credit it to Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND.