It’s easy to mindlessly eat your way through the week without giving a second thought to whether your food choices are actually nurturing your body. Mostly this is just through lack of time or inspiration but with a little forward planning it’s possible to organise yourself a mouth-watering menu that’s not only delicious but loaded with more anti-cancer nutrients than you can shake a stick at!
There is no doubt that dietary phytochemicals can offer a cornucopia of effective anti-cancer compounds but knowing which foods contain the essential nutrients is the most important step, so we’ve given you a helping hand.
If you plan your menus around these key anti-cancer foods it could make enough of a difference to completely change your life …
There are several lines of research that suggest food can affect the development of cancer in a beneficial way. Evidence suggests that healthy changes in lifestyle, including a better diet may prevent up to 40% of breast cancers. Increasing the consumption of fruit and berries is a positive step towards a healthy diet.
Many varieties of berries have been consumed by humans for centuries but have only recently been recognised for their potential health benefits and are now commonly referred to as a ‘superfood’. The general consensus amongst health professionals is that berries offer great health benefits due to their phytochemical composition. They are most notable for their antioxidant effects and are considered to be one of the top antioxidant foods in the world. However, berries produce a whole range of bioactive substances some of which have been shown to interfere with multiple pathways that promote the development of cancer. Berry compounds are known to reduce damaging free radicals in the cells, decrease new blood vessel formation and increase the number of beneficial bacteria – all elements which help in the fight against breast cancer.
Research has identified links between the bioactive components of berries and the positive effects on cancer risk, which has been proven on many occasions by numerous studies. There is considerable evidence from both in vitro and in vivo studies to suggest that phytochemicals abundantly found in berries such as cyaniding, quercetin, ellagic acid, resveratrol, kaempferol, delphinidin and pterostilbene interact and interfere with key pathways in breast cancer as well as promoting cell death thus reducing the risk for breast cancer progression and recurrence.
Berry phytochemicals have been shown to interfere with receptor-signalling pathways, specifically two receptor pathways – oestrogen receptor (ER) and tyrosine kinase receptors which play key roles in breast cancer development. Furthermore it has been found that berry phytochemicals also reduce tumour growth.
In one recent animal study researchers found that tumours found in animals that received whole blueberries were smaller and less aggressive than those animals given just blueberry juice. Circulating oestrogen which is linked to breast cancer promotion was also found to be lower in the animals that consumed whole blueberries.
Brazil nuts are uniquely rich in selenium, fibre, and phytochemicals. The presence of Selenium gives Brazil nuts their powerful antioxidant properties which help to alleviate oxidative stress in cells. The properties of this crucial trace element have been recognised in certain cancer types as a protective agent. Brazil nuts can help fight inflammation, improve the immune system and prevent tumour growth with the added advantage of being a nutritious and easily portable snack.
Results from a meta-analysis, of over 60 studies indicate that high selenium exposure has a protective effect on cancer risk, but may have different effects on specific types of cancer. It has been found to decrease the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, oesophageal cancer, gastric cancer, and prostate cancer, but it was not associated with colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, and skin cancer.
Furthermore – results from many studies support the notion that selenium may help to prevent metastasis – inhibiting cell motility, migration and invasion in addition to being an anti-cancer agent. Maintaining adequate selenium levels may provide therapeutic benefits against breast cancer activity.
You’ve probably heard of broccoli as an anti-cancer veg, but in fact all of the cruciferous veggies (cabbage, cauliflower, leafy greens, spinach, and kale) contain the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane. Sulforaphane helps to mobilize the body’s natural cancer fighting resources. However, if you’re going to be picky go for Brussel sprouts as these have been found to contain 20-50 times more sulforaphane than broccoli. Leafy greens are also a natural source of glucosinolates which have added benefits in terms of cancer prevention. These powerful plant chemicals become biologically active once digested helping to inactivate carcinogens, prevent cancer cell proliferation and trigger cancer cells to die off.
Note: Boiling broccoli ruins the anti-cancer benefits – steam lightly or eat raw in salads. Or for an even simpler solution try juicing your greens this makes them much more bioavailable and really easy to digest.
An important study has shown that eating cruciferous vegetables within the first 36 months after a breast cancer diagnosis was associated with a decreased risk of mortality and recurrence of disease. In fact the more of these vegetables the women ate the greater the risk was reduced.
Flaxseeds are a rich source of phytoestrogens known as lignans which are converted into mammalian lignans (enterolactone and enterodiol) – by bacterial fermentation in the colon. These plant oestrogens are known as adaptogens which act as either oestrogen agonists or antagonists.
Because of their structural similarity to oestrogens flaxseed lignans are able to attach to oestrogen receptors and thereby inhibit any oestrogen stimulated breast cancer growth. Dietary phytoestrogen intake has been associated with a reduction in the risk of breast cancer in several population studies.
In vitro research has shown that flaxseed increases tumour cell death and inhibits human breast cell proliferation. In a gold standard trial involving post-menopausal breast cancer patients, the protective activity of flaxseed was unmistakeable and resulted in a remarkable reduction in tumour growth. Other researchers also reported the beneficial effects of dietary flaxseed intake on the survival rate of post-menopausal women with breast cancer. Furthermore in a Canadian study undertaken in 2013 researchers demonstrated that flaxseed intake alone was associated with a prevention of breast cancer. Flaxseed has also been shown to enhance the effects of drug therapy helping to lower the side effects and increase survival rates of breast cancer patients.
Note: maintaining healthy gut bacteria is essential to gain the benefits of flaxseed as a range of gut bacteria are needed to complete the conversion of plant lignans into enterolactone and enterodiol.
Garlic has attracted great attention as a preventative treatment for breast cancer due to its numerous biologically active components which help suppress breast cancer proliferation. Garlic is thought to act by slowing tumour growth and promoting cancer cell death. A daily diet that includes fresh garlic is recommended alongside other anti-cancer nutrients.
Researchers performing a study in Iran found an association between garlic consumption and reduced risk of breast cancer. Their study included 285 women aged 25-65, diagnosed with breast cancer who completed food frequency questionnaires. The authors identified that the risk of breast cancer was lower amongst those who consumed higher amounts of garlic and leeks.
There are over 2000 species of medicinal and edible mushrooms, but all are recognised for having immune supportive properties and many have been utilised to control cancer for centuries. These health giving properties are associated with the abundance of bioactive compounds the mushrooms contain which include polysaccharides. However it is the beta glucans that are thought to give mushrooms their anti-cancer effects by possessing the ability to provoke an immune response specific to tumour cells.
One particular species – Turkey Tail (Coriolis versicolour) produces unique beta glucans: PSK and PSP that are known to generate white blood cells vital for immune health. They are also responsible for enhancing the activity and creation of macrophages, T-cells and natural killer cells which attack and destroy virus infected and cancerous cells. PSK is used widely in Japan as an anti-cancer therapy in combination with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
It’s not just exotic mushrooms that can help to fight cancer. Researchers have identified important phytochemicals in common white button mushrooms that protect against breast cancer by inhibiting an aromatase enzyme that produces oestrogen. It is thought that aromatase contributes to the progression of breast cancer – therefore substances that inhibit aromatase would interrupt the process of tumour promotion by reducing tissue levels of estradiol and blocking cell proliferation.
The bioactive compounds in mushrooms are thought to work similarly to breast cancer drugs known as ‘aromatase inhibitors’. Mushrooms are one of very few foods that inhibit aromatase, but several species, especially the commonly eaten white button and Portobello mushrooms, have strong anti-aromatase activity. Edible mushrooms have the ability to inhibit cancer cell activity and tumour cell growth which is strongly supported by evidence from in vitro and in vivo experiments.
Results from research have identified that regular consumption of at least 10g of white button mushrooms per day has been linked to a 64% decrease in the risk of breast cancer.
This oily fish is a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids as well as vitamin B12 helping to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to regulate cell growth and prevent cancer. Based on a number of studies a diet rich in oily fish may be a promising approach for breast cancer patients. Oily foods also help the body to absorb fat soluble nutrients from vegetables that have anti-tumour effects. Salmon goes particularly well with other cancer fighting foods like garlic, turmeric, dark leafy veggies and broccoli.
Studies have found that a higher ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer. This may be because in contrast to omega 3; omega 6 provokes inflammatory reactions. The anti-cancer effects of Omega 3 may be particularly affective for women with high body mass index as research has shown it has an increased protective effect amongst this group. More pronounced protective effects of omega 3s were also evident amongst post-menopausal women at risk of breast cancer.
One theory for the anti-tumour effects is that oily fish reduces inflammation which contributes to the development of cancer. Doses up to 7g of omega 3 daily have been found to be safe and well tolerated.
Turmeric is native to Southeast Asia and India and has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1900’s by Ayurvedic practitioners. It belongs to the ginger family and makes up the complex combination of spices in curry powder. One of the exciting benefits of turmeric is its potent anti-tumour activity. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which has been studied extensively, garnering a wealth of evidence based literature to support its use against cancer.
Turmeric is best combined with black pepper which aids its absorption and enhances its anti-inflammatory properties. One teaspoon of turmeric powder and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper daily is sufficient to gain the benefits of this anti-cancer spice.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that curcumin possesses anti-cancerous activity as well as having powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin exerts its anti-cancer activity through several mechanisms, partly by interrupting the cell cycle that leads to growth as well as inhibiting the STAT3 and NF-kB signalling pathways which are crucial factors in the development and progression of cancer.
In a phase 1 clinical trial, 25 patients with pre-cancerous changes were given curcumin. Outcomes from this study appeared to show that curcumin was able to prevent the pre-cancerous changes from progressing to cancer. Animal experiments have also shown that turmeric was effective in preventing cancer of the breast, lung, stomach, colon and skin.
Other population studies have identified that in countries where people eat around 100-200mg curcumin daily over long periods of time, the rates of certain types of cancer are lower. Scientists are currently exploring the use of turmeric for the possible treatment of breast cancer and myeloma.
Please Note: These foods are intended to be used within a healthy diet as a preventative measure. They cannot be claimed to cure cancer and should be used as a dietary support not as a replacement for conventional cancer therapy.
Sign up for updates, news, recipes and offers