Each year, over ten million people worldwide are diagnosed as cancer sufferers. In the UAE, cancer is the third leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases and accidents. Most cancers today are treatable, some are preventable. Linda S Heard looks at how a healthy, balanced diet can help prevent the disease.
Approximately 5-10 per cent of all cancers are attributable to genetics (inherited hormones and immune conditions), the remaining caused by lifestyle and environmental factors. Over 25 per cent are caused by tobacco use, 15- 20 per cent have been linked to infectious diseases while, according to the US National Cancer Institute up to a third of all cancers are related to diet with obesity a contributing factor. Scientists have discovered that certain ordinary foods are natural cancer inhibitors, capable of neutralizing the damage caused by free radicals.
There is no magic bullet to stave off cancer, but avoiding tobacco, moderate exercise combined with healthy eating can greatly reduce the risk of contracting certain types of cancer. A few simple lifestyle changes and diet replete with certain fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices and nuts go a long way to kicking cancer to the kerb.
Cancer Research UK alleges that excess body weight may heighten cancer risk by increasing hormone levels with excessive belly fat a high risk factor. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that overweight and obesity are the most known avoidable causes of cancer after tobacco. The obesity epidemic is currently a cause of concern for UAE health authorities as in 2012, the country ranked 18 in a WHO report listing the World’s fattest countries (68.3 per cent of the population overweight) with the US on the top spot. Obesity can also lead to heart disease, diabetes and a number of other health issues. The rising trend is associated with fast food and physical inactivity. The good news is a government-sponsored program partnered with UNICEF is targeting schools to influence to raise awareness among parents, teachers and students on obesity’s dangers.
Immune system boosters
The following foods are known cancerbeaters with some believed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and/or reduce the size of tumours:
Research conducted by Harvard University indicates that 7-10 servings of Lycopene-rich tomatoes weekly can cut prostate cancer symptoms by 40 per cent and helps to reduce lung, colon, cervix and breast cancers. Lycopene is also present in peaches, strawberries, carrots and peppers in reduced quantities. The American Cancer Society says several scientific studies have found lower risk of cancer among people who eat foods containing the antioxident Lycopene.
Broccoli, Cabbage & Cauliflower
These cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, a known antioxidant with natural detoxifying enzymes. The Roman statesman Cato the Elder wrote – optimistically perhaps - in 200 B.C. that “If a cancerous ulcer appears on the breast, apply a crushed cabbage leaf and it will make it well.”
Herring, salmon and mackerel contain vitamins A and D and Omega-3 which has been credited for reducing levels of prostrate, breast and colon cancers.
Rich in the powerful antioxidant glutathione that attacks free radicals by preventing intestinal absorption of fats, avocados are a source of potassium and beta-carotene. High avocado intake has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
The Chinese call them “Mushrooms of Immortality”. Research indicates that certain kinds of mushrooms have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antiviral properties. Long featured in traditional Chinese medicine as a longevity tonic, they enhance immune responses and raise antioxidant capacity with polysaccharides (immunomodulators) and beta glucans (immune system activators).
Figs contain vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium – and benzaldehyde (B-17) which studies conducted in Russia and Japan has proved to be a cancer inhibitor. Additionally figs are an excellent source of dietary fibre and are used as an alternative treatment for breast cancer.
It may be famous for keeping vampires at bay, but its active ingredients – selenium, tryptophan and sulphur – are also credited for halting the spread of cancers. A New Zealand research team published their studies on garlic in the New Scientist magazine which suggest it boosts the gut’s production of enzymes that battle cancercausing particles. At one time it was believed that one would have to consume one’s body weight in garlic to reap benefits. New research suggests that a single clove of raw garlic or 4.5 cloves of cooked garlic daily will do the trick.
The Mayo Clinic claims that 3-5 cups of green tea can prevent certain cancers, in particular breast and prostate cancers, from growing. This ancient brew beloved in the Far East, has been acclaimed for enhancing the immune system to preventing and even reversing chronic diseases. Doctors have now identified the role of green tea in cancer treatment albeit inconclusively. They maintain its polyphenols ingredient inhibits cell growth/migration proteins. In countries like Japan where people regularly drink green tea, cancer rates are low.
Grapes and grape juice contain the phytochemical resveratrol which possesses powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Laboratory tests on animals have shown resveratrol prevents free radicals that trigger cancerous cells. The American Institute for Cancer Research claims its research has proven that resveratrol blocks the development of skin, breast and leukemia cancers in all three stages of the disease.
This yellow spice is one of the most promising anti-cancer agents due to its inhibition of the damaging enzyme cyclo-oxygenase 2 (Cox-2) which is abnormally high in patients suffering from bowel and colon cancers. Turmeric has also been shown to be effective in the reduction of cholesterol and the suppression of thrombosis as well as symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.