Worldwide, more than 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Until recently it was believed that cancer is largely caused by genetic mutations; however, new research from Stony Brook University in the US indicates that up to 90% of cancers could be avoided by living a healthier lifestyle. On World Cancer Day, discover which foods and drinks could reduce your cancer risk.
One apple a day really can keep the doctor away. According to the Prevent Cancer website, eating antioxidant-rich apples on a daily basis has been associated with a lower risk of lung and colon cancers, while the phytochemicals in apples (including quercetin) have been shown to quash cancerous breast tumors.
Beans, particularly pinto, kidney and red beans, are an exceptional source of antioxidants, they’re full of fiber, and are a source of inositol hexaphosphate (also called IP6) which is being studied for its potential to combat cancer. Beans could reduce the likelihood of death from breast, colon, gastric and prostate cancer.
Berries, especially blueberries, are excellent sources of cancer-busting flavonoids and antioxidants, which mop up the free radicals in the body that damage cells. And there’s good news for breast cancer sufferers – blueberries are thought to enhance the positive effects of the drug tamoxifen.
Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments that give fruit and vegetables their color. Good sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, mangoes, apricots and plums. All carotenoids are antioxidants, which protect cells against harm. Studies show that people with higher levels of carotenoids in their blood have a reduced risk of breast cancer. They may also help prevent skin and prostate cancer, as well as cancers of the mouth and larynx.
Cayenne and other hot peppers contain an active compound called capsaicin, which gives these spices heat. Capsaicin is potently anti-carcinogenic; it encourages apoptosis of cancer cells, causing them to ‘commit suicide’. Various studies on capsaicin have shown it could be effective in battling bowel, colorectal, and prostate cancer.
Research into coffee and cancer has had varying results. A 2015 study by Sweden’s Lund University showed that women who drank more than two cups of coffee a day had smaller breast tumors, and halved their risk of cancer returning if treated with tamoxifen. However, other reports indicate that coffee affects people – and their particular cancer – differently. Coffee consumption, weight and age play a part.
Cruciferous veg such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale contain anti-cancer substances known as glucosinolates, including the compounds indoles and isothiocyanates, which impede cancer growth. A study of 5,000 Chinese breast cancer survivors discovered that those who ate lots of cruciferous veg were more likely to live longer and have a decreased chance of the cancer returning.
This bright yellow spice, which is synonymous with Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, is part of the parsley family (alongside coriander and dill). Abundant in phytochemicals – thought to protect against inflammation and cancer – it can be added to curries, chillies and stews, or taken as a supplement.
Eating at least 25g of fiber daily – found in beans, bran, wholewheat bread and cereal, prunes and other fruit, and vegetables – may help prevent cancer, especially colorectal cancer as it helps move carcinogens through the intestines faster. Bran fiber can lower estrogen levels in the blood in pre-menopausal females, and lower estrogen may reduce some women’s breast cancer risk.
Use flaxseed oil to cook with, drizzle onto salads, or sprinkle flaxseeds on cereal. They contain compounds called lignans, which slow cancer growth.
Garlic is a powerful anti-cancer food. Population studies have shown an association between garlic intake and a reduced risk of certain cancers, especially those that affect the digestive system, such as the stomach and colon, and the breasts. Garlic can block cancer-causing substances, may stop cancer cells multiplying, and aid DNA repair. [AUTH0R=Shutterstock]
Ginger is a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radicals in the body and has anti-tumor properties. A recent study published on Plos One found that a component in ginger called 6-shogaol inhibits breast cancer cells (but not at a level that is toxic to non-cancer cells) when it’s dried or cooked, while ginger root extract has been shown to reduce prostate tumors in mice.
Although studies have been promising, there’s no firm evidence to support the theory that green tea can prevent cancer. However, cancer rates are much lower in Asia where consumption of green tea is highest. Green tea contains polyphenols – including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – which are powerful antioxidants that suppress cancer.
Spinach, kale, lettuce and collard greens are just some of the dark, leafy vegetables that contain a range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, but also saponins and flavonoids, that mop up free radicals that do the body harm. Studies have revealed carotenoids in greens to inhibit the growth of cancers of the breast, lung, skin and stomach.
MONOUNSATURATED & POLYUNSATURATED FATS
It’s advisable to swap animal fats found in meat and dairy produce, and trans-fats found in cakes and biscuits – both of which have been linked to a raised risk of cancer – for monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, nut oils, avocados, nuts and seeds), and polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils).
Onions contain flavonoids, which protect cells from damage and are increasingly thought to play a vital role in preventing cancer. One of the largest nutrient families known to man, flavonoids is an umbrella term for a group of plant metabolites with powerful antioxidant properties.
This wonderfully fragrant green herb is laden with the phytochemical quercetin, which slows the growth of cancer and encourages apoptosis of cancer cells, a process by which certain cells are programmed to die.
The parsley herb has many health benefits: it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-spasmodic. It also contains apigenin, a flavonoid also found in celery, peppermint, thyme and chamomile tea, that could inhibit the growth – and shorten the lifespan of – specific cancer cells.
Bell peppers score highly on the flavonoids and carotenoids rich list (known to protect against cancer). The antioxidant lycopene, which is found in tomatoes and is thought to prevent prostate cancer, is also present in red peppers.
Pomegranate juice is known to be high in antioxidants and, according to an American study, this brightly-colored fruit also contains ellagitannins – natural compounds that seem to prevent estrogen-responsive cancer cells from multiplying.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes, as well as peanuts, pomegranates and raw cacao. It has anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and looks potentially promising as an effective treatment against cancer. Of the grape varieties, muscadine grapes have the highest concentration of resveratrol.
Although high alcohol consumption is linked to cancer, a moderate amount of red wine (two to three glasses a week) is thought to have positive effects because of its high quantity of antioxidant polyphenols, especially resveratrol, which is soluble in alcohol. Drinking red wine in moderation has also been linked to a lower rate of prostate cancer.
SALMON AND OTHER OILY FISH
Salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel are types of oily fish that can thwart cancer. These species are rich in omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation in the body. Good quality fish oil supplements are another option.
Soya products are associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. One joint study produced by Cancer Research UK found that women on a high soya diet had less dense breast tissue (dense breast tissue is linked to breast cancer). Soya also contains isoflavones, which reduce the effect of human estrogen – higher levels of which increase risk. Be careful as consuming too much may have the opposite effect.
As they’re a fantastic source of the antioxidant lycopene, eating tomatoes has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Unusually, some nutritionists recommend processed tomato-based foods such as ketchup and tomato sauce over fresh to reap the most benefits, as these have a higher concentration of lycopene.
A diet rich in fruit has been found to lower the risk of cancer, probably because fruit is full of fiber and antioxidants – molecules that prevent oxidation that damages cells. In particular plums, but also apples and peaches, are full of flavonoids and antioxidants.
A vivid orange spice commonly used in Indian cuisine, turmeric is related to ginger and is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains a polyphenol called curcumin that works to destroy cancerous cells and may block a protein called NF-kappaB that is linked to gastrointestinal cancer. It may also trigger apoptosis (specific cell death).
An American study conducted on mice at the Marshall University School of Medicine in West Virginia found that eating walnuts impedes the growth of breast cancer. It’s thought that the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 fats found in walnuts are responsible for slowing cancerous tumors.
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, whole grains such as barley, brown rice, corn, oats, and wholemeal bread contain a number of cancer-busting elements. These include: fiber, which protects the body against colorectal cancer; protease inhibitors that may prevent cancer cells spreading; and saponins and phytic acid – both of which are increasingly thought to have anti-cancer properties.