Good Nutrition Fights Cancer
This article is to inspire us to take control of our health as a preventative measure against cancer and for those who are experiencing cancer now, we hope to empower you with some nutrition and lifestyle information you can use now.
Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.1
Although a lot of money is put into research for cancer treatment however, the need for preventative measures needs to be moved in the forefront. Lifestyle and diet are key as is an integrative approach to cancer treatment.
Did you know 20-40 percent of people who succumb to the disease of cancer is not from the cancer itself but from malnutrition? You have more control than you think. There is a lot of research out there that ties animal protein to cancer growth which would encourage a plant based diet. Once someone is diagnosed with cancer this diet becomes a necessity.
This should give you some hope and empowerment. Your lifestyle is something you are able to control and that is the good news. Our lifestyle is one thing we can control and if we use food as medicine we can gain some positive results.
Something to note, there is a misconception of weight especially with cancer patients. Someone might think because they are heavier they are getting the nutrition they need. A person can be overweight and malnourished. Nutrition is a major part of healing and gets overlooked too often. I’ve asked people who are battling cancer of all types if they are addressing nutrition. I’ve had some surprising no’s so there needs to be more education with cancer patients on this. Your body needs healthy fuel to heal. Functional nutrition is where you will find it.
My step sister battled bone cancer for 5 years and while she was going through chemo (one of many times) she never watched her diet. She would drink cans of Fresca (soda) which as we know destroys important minerals in our bones. She also declined an integrative approach which would have included IV’s with important vitamins such as Vitamin C or Ozone Therapy which we use in the office. As you can imagine, as a family member and Holistic Practitioner this was heartbreaking to watch and more so that she did not except the fact that nutrition is a critical part of the process. This is also important to note nutrition plays an important role in preventing disease by using food as medicine.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Cornell University and author of the groundbreaking book The China Study found in his work as a researcher that casein (milk protein) is the most relevant cancer promoter ever discovered. Dr. Campbell is a fan of plant based diets for disease prevention because only 2-3 percent of cancers are due entirely to genes. This tells us a lot about the need to pay attention to our environment and diet. 2
Keeping the body nourished with healthy plant based proteins and good fats is key if you have cancer so your body can get the treatments you need. If you are too weak and your veins are flat, getting an IV for example is challenging if not impossible and can impact your healing.
Keep in mind diet is based on individual needs. Some people with or without cancer cannot obtain optimal results on a strict plant based diet. It’s important to talk to your doctor about blood testing for protein, iron, RBC, & Hgb/Hct level and keeping in mind, some nutrients like Vit A, Zinc, Vit B12 are much more available in animal protein. Hemoglobin (Hb) is the protein contained in red blood cells that is responsible for delivery of oxygen to the tissues. The hematocrit measures the volume of red blood cells compared to the total blood volume (red blood cells and plasma).
The other area that is important is exercise. The lymphatic system (from Latin lympha meaning “water”) which is a vital part of the immune systems primary function is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. The lymphatic system does not “drain” on its own. It needs circulation in the form of exercise, dry brushing, massage, etc.,
As you are well aware, attitude plays a significant role in healing. Fear is real but can also consume you. Identifying it and moving through it is key. Faith becomes so important as does support from family and friends. Support groups can be beneficial and counseling to process stagnant traumas. Finding your medical team is crucial and exploring integrative medicine and functional nutrition is a great way to balance the body.
So, how do we ensure we are eating with proper nutrition in mind, exercising properly and maintaining a healthy weight?
The good news is you don’t have to train for a marathon or even think about a spin class. Of course, there needs to be a necessary change of mindset, but there are ways to make minor adjustments for a dramatic difference.
There are the obvious health guidelines such as avoiding tobacco, avoiding smoking, and moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week. That doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. A nice walk around the neighborhood or the beach does wonders. Or, just staying active for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and increasing fruits and vegetables. Simple things like that go a long way.
You hear the words diet and exercise and you immediately think you have to give everything up. While you will certainly have to make some sacrifices in order to take control of your health, small steps are the best place to start for long term success.
If you are motivated for optimal nutrition, more and more studies continue to point to the benefits of a plant-based organic diet. Dr. Campbell’s studies show the nutrients from animal based foods, especially the protein, promote the development of the cancer whereas the nutrients from plant-based foods, especially the antioxidants, reverse the promotion stage. The promotion stage occurs when the initiated cells continue to replicate themselves and grow into cell masses that eventually will be diagnosed. This is the stage that especially responds to nutritional factors.
According to an article published in PubMed, healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. The presented case in this study is a dramatic example of the effect a plant-based diet can have on biometric outcomes like blood pressure, diabetes, and lipid profile.3 This is key when we have other issues going on such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure which can lead to degeneration.
One thing I will say to be fair is gluten (wheat) is not what it used to be. Wheat is obviously plant based however, I would recommend a gluten free diet. This leaves us with many choices for other gluten free (GF) plant based options such as Quinoa which is an ancient grain full of protein.
Another exciting area to consider a look at is the Microbiome. There are new studies in the area of microbiome (gut bacteria) which show that a plant-based diet helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome by feeding the good bacteria (prebiotics). This creates a balance in our gut so we have more healthy bacteria and less unhealthy bacteria, which plays a role in prevention. A healthy gut also helps you avoid Candida which is a yeast overgrowth and quite common with the Standard American Diet (SAD). Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” This is why we focus so much on balancing the microbiome and are blessed today with all the research proving the benefits of a healthy microbiome.
What about the Diet?
Now that we know a plant based diet has been researched and has positive outcome in treating cancer as well as cancer prevention let’s look at some foods to start incorporating in your diet today.
Top Ten Cancer Fighting Foods
1 – Yellow and Green Vegetables
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are the best-known varieties of the ‘cruciferous’ vegetables and all have good records as cancer fighters because they’re rich in ‘phytochemicals’ such as sulforaphane.
Spinach is a dark, leafy green vegetable high in antioxidants and rich in ‘carotenoids’ and folic acid, which are known to combat some cancers.
Pumpkin and carrots, which are high in ‘beta-carotene’, have been shown to have protective effects against stomach cancers.
2 – Tomatoes
Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants especially vitamin C and ‘lycopene’. Antioxidants protect the body from cell and tissue damage, which is caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Cooking tomatoes in foods such as spaghetti sauce can actually boost their ability to fight cancers.
3 – Oranges
Rich in vitamin C and ‘bioflavonoids’, oranges and their juice are thought to be able to improve the blood lipid (fats) profile, reduce oxidative stress, and improve blood levels of HDL cholesterol.
4 – Garlic
This pungent member of the onion family has been hailed for its therapeutic benefits, especially for cardiovascular conditions. Garlic has also been reported to lower blood cholesterol and confer protection against cancer development and progression, and to boost general immunity.
5 – Tea
Tea contains antioxidant ‘polyphenols’ called catechins. Green tea contains the highest levels of catechins, followed by oolong and black teas. Studies have shown catechins halt tumor cells and protect healthy cells from damage. Drinking three coffee-sized mugs of green tea a day might provide useful levels of polyphenols. Opt for decaffeinated.
6 – High Fiber Foods
Either soluble or insoluble, dietary fiber (roughage) is not digested in the stomach or small intestine, as most other nutrients are. Some components of dietary fiber are broken down and digested in the large intestine (colon). Foods high in fiber such as whole GF grains (quinoa, millet or amaranth.), apples, berries, Brussel sprouts, artichoke, beans and legumes are thought help protect against cancer of the colon. Nuts and seeds if tolerable are high in fiber and loaded with protein as is flax, chia and hemp.
7 – Peppers and Spices
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot chili peppers, is thought to be able to kill cancer cells by damaging the cell membranes and limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches them. Many dried herbs we cook with, and some you may have in your garden, also contain very high concentrations of phytochemical antioxidants which have health benefits.
8 – Beans
Rich in isoflavones, a type of phytochemical, beans are thought to provide protection against prostate cancer. Soybeans have also been shown to have breast cancer-fighting properties as well as protective effects against cardiovascular disease.
9 – Olive Oil
One of the best and healthiest types of fat and high in phytochemical antioxidants and vitamin E. Olive oil is a major component of the so-called Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is thought to be helpful in prevention of breast and colon cancer. Do not heat olive oil. It’s best used on salads.
10 – Berries
Berries including raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and red and purple grapes have high amounts of ‘ellagic acid’, a plant nutrient with protective effects against esophageal and colon cancer in animals. Berries are also rich in powerful antioxidant flavonoids. Ellagic acid alone does not account for the fruit’s ability to inhibit cancer, so a healthy diet should contain suitable quantities of fruit.
Cancer Fighting Herbs
There are herbs you can use to prevent cancer by giving the immune system the nutrition it needs and fighting the free radicals that cause cancer. Try to incorporate as much of the “good foods and herbs” on a daily basis. Work with your doctor or practitioner before taking any herbal supplements.
Garlic aids in cancer prevention by raising the body’s level of glutathione transferase, a liver enzyme known to detoxify the body of carcinogens.
Hawthorn aids the heart’s pumping action by opening the coronary arteries to nourish the heart muscle. The herb can also slow a rapid heart rate and strengthen a failing heart.
Ginkgo Biloba extract from the ginkgo tree has been shown to benefit visual function by improving microcirculation to the eyes especially among patients suffering from senile macular degeneration, a common condition thought to involve free radical damage.
Bilberry A strong antioxidant, bilberry benefits your circulatory system, eyes, heart and brain, and helps generate overall good health.
Echinacea Studies have determined Echinacea’s ability to activate white blood cells and stimulate the regeneration of the cellular connective tissue and the epidermis.
Milk Thistle More than 120 scientific studies have shown that milk thistle extract regenerates, regulates and strengthens liver functions. Because free radicals attack the liver, primarily the fat tissue in the liver, the antioxidant qualities of milk thistle are extremely beneficial. Milk thistle stimulates your body to produce superoxide dismutase, which is one of two primary antioxidants the body can manufacture.
Astragalus extracts can increase immune system efficiency by increasing immune activity. One study found that astragalus extracts could increase the impaired immune function of blood cells up to and sometimes beyond normal cell ability.
Ginseng A Japanese study showed cancerous liver cells could be reverted to normal cells in a Petri dish culture when treated with Panax ginseng extract. Siberian ginseng has also been shown to stimulate the immune system.
When You Just Don’t Feel Like It
For some, cancer treatments can be grueling. You feel nauseous and the furthest thing from your mind is eating and exercising. The importance of keeping your body strong cannot be overstressed. When your body is at its strongest, it has the capability to work in conjunction with your cancer treatments to fight off disease. This is where your support system is key.
Be open to the support and express your challenges. Each person is unique in what foods and textures will work. If you have to get baby food and add some plant based protein then do it.
Have someone prepare a sweet potato mash for you and add unsweetened nut milk (coconut, almond, cashew, macadamia) so it’s easier to swallow and digest. Make a comforting soup with vegetable broth (good electrolytes). Add your favorite veggies.
Although a plant based diet is the focus, bone broth can be healing and is gaining popularity for its nutritional benefits. In fact, many people are calling bone broth “nature’s multi-vitamin” as it contains multiple minerals and other chemical compounds that most people are lacking in their diet. Bone broth is packed with over 19 easy to absorb essential and non-essential amino acids which are building blocks to protein.
Collagen helps form connective tissue which is important in healing. The nutrients in bone broth support the immune system and promote good digestion.
Make sure you buy a good organic sourced broth. You can also make your own. If you’re not sure talk to your doctor to see if this would be beneficial.
Having control over a vital part of your cancer battle is empowering. Although a shift in mindset is necessary, small changes can produce life-altering results and make you an active participant in your fight.
Sandi J. Star, HHP, CNC, CCMH specializes in GI Health, weight loss and food intolerance. Sandi graduated from The Natural Healing Institute in Encinitas, CA with Certifications including Holistic Health Practitioner, Clinical Nutrition, Clinical Master Herbology, and Aromatherapy.
Sandi is the author of Living Gluten Free Guide for those starting a gluten free diet available at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. To schedule a consultation with certified nutritionist Sandi Star at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, call 760-274-2377.
© Copyright 2017
This is intended for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended or suited to be a replacement or substitute for professional medical treatment or for professional medical advice relative to a specific medical question or condition. Results vary from person to person and cannot be guaranteed.