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An Anticancer Diet

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Diet is one of the major risk factors for cancer in Western societies. But it’s not just about what we eat too much of. It’s also about the foods we should learn to add to our table every day.


In his $40M laboratory at the University of Montreal, Dr. Richard Beliveau used to test new drugs that may help treat cancer. One day, tugged by children with leukemia who stopped him in the corridor of the hospital to ask if he had something new for them to use, he started experimenting with simple food extracts. Beliveau discovered that many simple food extracts had anticancer properties as powerful as many of the drugs he had been testing for the past thirty years.


Lenny, one of his friends, learned that he had pancreatic cancer. His wife begged Beliveau to help her design an anticancer diet. She fed Lenny, every day, three times a day, with foods that all had been tested for their anticancer properties. Lenny lived five years beyond his prognosis.


Today, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the largest cancer research institution in the world, is also exploring this avenue. Long used in Ayurvedic medicine in India, the common spice turmeric (one of the main spices in curry) has been found to contain the most potent natural anti-inflammatory ever described—the molecule “curcumin”. Researchers at MD Anderson have shown that it inhibits cancer growth by not only reducing inflammation (necessary for invasion of neighboring tissues) but by inducing cancer cell death (”apoptosis”), slowing down the growth of new blood vessels necessary for tumor expansion (”angiogenesis”), and increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy. This research was recently reviewed in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2008).


Researchers at the Karolinska Institute (which awards the Nobel Prize) in Sweden have also shown that the polyphenols of green tea inhibit the progression of cancer. It can increase, too, the efficacy of radiotherapy. Women in Japan who drink more than three cups of green tea per day reduce their risk of breast cancer relapse. Men reduce their chance of seeing prostate cancer advance to a dangerous stage.


Eating at least five fruits and vegetables per day contributes greatly to the reduction of cancer risk.


The World Cancer Research Fund confirmed in its October 2007 report that 40 percent of cancers could be avoided with a more adequate diet and a bit more physical activity. And that these same life-style choices should be an integral part of any treatment of cancer. It stated as a goal no more than twelve ounces of red meat per week. The current American diet is close to eleven ounces per day.


The single most important feature in an anticancer diet is to reverse the proportions of a typical American meal: make the core of your plate vegetables (and fruits), and use meat only to enhance flavor. Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.) and soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame etc.) offer the same proteins as meat but combined with cancer fighting phytochemicals.


It’s also important to replace desserts (refined sugar) with fruits as often as possible. Berries, for example, contain anthocyanidins that directly help kill cancer cells and reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Tangerines and their special flavonoids also act against cancer cells. All brightly colored fruits contain flavonoids that contribute to slowing down cancer growth. Agave syrup (which does not raise blood sugar or insulin) is a wonderful way to replace sugar for those who can’t do without the sweet taste.


All omega-6 oils (soybean, corn, sunflower) should be reduced or eliminated and replaced with olive oil, canola oil, or flaxseed oil. Omega-3 butter or margarine is also acceptable.


Animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) should be grass-fed or labeled “omega-3 rich”, and preferably organic so as to avoid growth hormone (that can stimulate cancer cell growth too).


Organic vegetables and fruits are preferable to non-organic, but, as Dr. Beliveau likes to point out, “it’s better to eat broccoli with a few residues of pesticides on it than to not eat broccoli.”


And benefits from an anticancer diet are immediate. Within months, we can see our blood sugar go down, our waist thinning, our blood pressure improve, and we feel more energetic and less afflicted by little pains of life we had started to take for granted such as heart burn and joint pains . . . It’s not just about cancer. It’s about nourishing life in us.

By David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD for
 Not Just the Kitchen

©2008 David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD

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