Health is edible and proper nutrition can help against cancer
Most people are still asking themselves how proper nutrition can help against cancer. They don’t, however, take the essential steps toward changing their eating habits. Experts, on the other hand, attribute more than a third of all cancer deaths to diet. Which components are more likely to harm our food and which can prevent it has now been well researched.
The risk of developing cancer depends on several factors. In addition to genetic predisposition and age, diet, mindset and environmental influences such as smoking also play a role. Scientists estimate that an appropriate diet can cut the risk of breast cancer by about half.
In colon and stomach cancer, it can probably be reduced by up to 90 percent through a healthy diet; in the case of lung, mouth, throat, bladder and uterine cancer, it is still around 20 percent.
As early as the 1980s, various studies on larger population groups suggested the connection between diet and cancer. In the meantime, numerous studies have been carried out which indicate that a diet consisting predominantly of plant-based foods can protect against cancer or that too little consumption of vegetables and fruits increases the risk of tumors.
Especially in Mediterranean countries such as Greece or Italy, where people eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, far fewer people die from colon cancer than, for example, in the United States, where everyone consumes far less of these foods. This discovery alone shows that a proper nutrition can help against cancer and prevent it from occurring.
Natural colors and flavors prevent this
Nutritionists hold various ingredients responsible for the preventive effect of a predominantly plant-based food. In addition to some vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, they also attribute a cancer-preventing effect to bioactive substances.
These include secondary plant substances, fiber and substances in fermented foods such as sauerkraut or sour milk products. The secondary plant substances are compounds that only occur in low concentrations in exclusively plant-based foods, for example as flavorings, fragrances or colorings.
Many studies on the bioactive substances indicate that the compounds can intervene in the cancer process via various mechanisms. The examinations are mainly carried out on animals and cell cultures. They can, therefore, only be transferred to humans to a limited extent and should be understood as references.
Cancer development is a very complex process. As a model, it can be divided into three phases. In the first phase, initiation, the genetic information in the cell is changed. Triggers can be rays, viruses, various food ingredients such as nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) or cigarette smoke.
Normally the genetic damage in the cells is repaired by the organism so that no tumor can develop from it. Cancer-promoting substances affect the damaged cells, so that a tumor forms. The promoters support the division of the cancer cells and contribute to the fact that daughter cells with genetic damage multiply in an uncontrolled manner to form a tumor.
Promoters can be, for example, certain fatty acids (especially animal fat), alcohol or an excessive intake of food energy. This stage in the development of cancer is called a doctorate, which also proves that proper nutrition can help against cancer. In the last phase, the progression, the tumor enlarges and metastases (daughter tumors) can form.
Plant substances intervene
Secondary plant substances can intervene in the cancer process as they can prevent inactive precursors of carcinogenic substances (procarcinogens) from converting into the active form (carcinogens). We can find some of the triggering substances such as mold toxins, PAHs and nitrosamines in food as procarcinogens.
They are only converted into effective carcinogens in the body with the help of enzymes. Various phytochemicals can inhibit these enzymes so that fewer carcinogenic compounds can form. This effect has been demonstrated for phenolic acids, glucosinolates and sulphides, among other things. These occur in various cabbage vegetables or garlic.
Experts suspect that they attach themselves to the enzymes and, thus, block them for further reactions. Like vitamins C and E, certain phytochemicals prevent the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, which arise either during food preparation or in the human digestive tract from amines and nitrite.
Scientists from the Federal Research Institute for Nutrition in Karlsruhe, Germany, observed in a study with several test persons that phenolic acids contained in tomato juice inhibit the formation of nitrosamines.
As a further defense weapon against carcinogenic compounds, our body has enzymes that paralyze already activated carcinogens. As we can see clearly again, here too science has shown us that proper nutrition can help against cancer and ward off cancer-causing elements.
The organism excretes the harmless compounds via bile and urine. Phytonutrients such as glucosinolates, monoterpenes, sulfides and polyphenols can stimulate these detoxification enzymes. Other phytochemicals intervene in the development of cancer by binding to the already activated carcinogens and, thus, switching them off.
The phenolic acids ellagic acid, ferulic acid and caffeic acid, which react with carcinogenic hydrocarbons (PAH), are particularly effective in this regard. In animal experiments, they were able to suppress the development of cancer in a certain dose.
Additionally, carotenoids, polyphenols and flavonoids are able to attach themselves to the DNA in the cell nucleus, to which carcinogens would otherwise be bound. In this way, they protect the genetic information from changes and, thereby, intervene in the initiation phase of cancer development.
Antioxidants stop free radicals
Substances that scavenge free radicals, known as antioxidants, also make an important contribution to preventing cancer. Free radicals are very reactive compounds that can damage or even destroy cell walls and genetic material in the body.
The radicals arise in the metabolism or are supplied to the body from outside, e.g. via food, tobacco smoke or exhaust gases. Some antioxidants prevent these reactions by stabilizing the radicals. This applies to vitamins C and E.
Other antioxidants such as carotenoids, on the other hand, bind free radicals and are, therefore, referred to as radical scavengers. The effects of beta-carotene, a carotenoid found in yellow-red and green vegetables, have been particularly well researched.
Numerous studies confirm the connection between a high beta-carotene intake and a low cancer risk. Not only do they act as antioxidants, they can also inhibit tumor formation. Other carotenoids such as lycopene, the main coloring in tomatoes, and lutein, which is found in green vegetables, also have antioxidant properties.
A study on 23 male test persons also demonstrated that proper nutrition can help against cancer. A two-week intake of 330 milliliters of carrot, tomato or spinach juice per day reduced the damage to genetic information. Flavonoids and phenolic acids also prevent cancer due to their antioxidant effects.
With carrots and beans against cancer?
When tumors develop, communication between individual cells is impaired. As a result of the disrupted exchange of information, their growth and differentiation get out of control, so that the cells multiply in an uncontrolled manner.
Carotenoids and other phytochemicals can have anti-tumor effects by promoting the flow of information between cells. Tumor cells can also be stimulated to multiply by endogenous hormones such as estrogens.
This is especially true for hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, uterine and prostate cancer. The phytoestrogens, which are classified as secondary plant substances, are able to intervene in the estrogen metabolism and inhibit tumor growth.
The estrogen-like plant substances include, for example, the isoflavonoids genistin and daidzin, which are mainly found in soybeans.
These partially inactive compounds are converted into hormonally active substances in the body, where they reduce the negative influence of the body’s own estrogens. Similar to the isoflavonoids, lignans and indoles also influence hormone-dependent tumor growth.
Inhibited Tumor growth
Phytosterols, which are particularly effective in the large intestine, slow down the multiplication of tumor cells. This leaves the body’s own repair mechanisms more time to eliminate damage to the genetic material.
Phytosterols are mainly found in high-fat parts of plants and can be found in sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, among other things. Saponins, which are present in abundance in legumes, also inhibit the growth rate of tumor cells in the colon.
Some phytochemicals also have the ability to stimulate individual immune functions. You can e.g. promote the formation of signal substances (cytokines) that are involved in the destruction of tumor cells or increase the number and activity of macrophages (phagocytes).
These are cells of the immune system that are responsible for recognizing and removing foreign substances. Carotenoids, in particular, showed immunological effects in studies. But also flavonoids, saponins and sulfides can stimulate the immune system and, thus, inhibit the development of cancer.
Dietary fiber defuses carcinogens
Not only phytochemicals can prevent cancer. Dietary fiber also belongs to the group of proper nutrition that can help against cancer, as it has a variety of protective effects. Scientists have been observing for years that people who eat high-fiber diets are less likely to develop colon cancer.
Dietary fiber increases the volume of the intestinal contents and, thereby, reduces both the concentration of carcinogenic ingredients and their contact with the intestinal mucosa. In addition, intestinal bacteria break down the dietary fiber into short-chain fatty acids, so that the pH value in the intestine drops.
This inhibits various enzymes that activate cancer-causing compounds. When the dietary fiber breaks down, this produces butyric acid, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells in the large intestine. In addition, dietary fiber can bind to carcinogens directly.
These include secondary bile acids, which the body produces itself and which are believed to be carcinogenic. In a study on rats, dietary fiber fed in the form of wheat bran protected against cancer, despite an otherwise high-fat and low-calcium diet – both risk factors for the development of cancer.
Lactic acid inhibits tumor growth
Results from animal experiments show that the lactic acid bacteria contained in sauerkraut, yogurt and other fermented foods can help against cancer and prevent cancer from developing. This is especially true in the case of colon cancer.
Scientists observed that the bacteria bind carcinogenic substances in the intestine, and this prevents damage to the genetic information. This property could only be demonstrated, however, in living, i.e. not heat-treated, lactic acid bacteria.
Other studies in which yogurt was fed to animals suggest that lactic acid bacteria inhibit tumor growth through their positive effects on the immune system. This was only true, however, if the animals regularly received sufficient amounts of yogurt and the tumor was in an early stage of development.
Lactic acid bacteria slow down the activity of enzymes in the intestinal flora, which convert procarcinogens into carcinogenic compounds. The activity of the enzymes cannot only be influenced by fermented foods.
A high fiber intake probably also lowers the enzyme performance, while a frequent consumption of meat, on the other hand, promotes it.
Prevent cancer with whole foods
The evidences that proper nutrition can help against cancer and that diet plays an important role in cancer prevention accumulate fast. No diet, however, can guarantee complete protection against disease.
With an optimally composed nutrition, however, there is the possibility of reducing the risk of cancer drastically. Both the secondary plant substances contained in fruit and vegetables and the dietary fiber have a high cancer-inhibiting potential.
For this reason, a plant-based diet such as the whole-food diet is recommended, in which less animal fats are consumed than with the usual mixed diet. Such a diet is not only the best way to prevent cancer, but also protects against other, chronic diseases.
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