Cancer Fighting Foods – Drinks Vitamins Herbs & Supplements
Cancer is the overall term given to a group of over 100 diseases that all develop and proliferate in a similar manner. Generally named for the organ or part of the body in which they develop, such as liver cancer or bone cancer, cancerous cells are abnormal cells which grow without control and can invade and damage healthy cells. But before we get to some of the cancer fighting foods, let’s take a short look from a biological perspective on this disease.
Cancer Fighting Foods 101: Biology Lesson
The human body is made up of trillions of cells. Typically a cell grows, divides and dies in an orderly fashion. Cell division and new cell growth occur more frequently when we are young and growing, and then slow down when growth stops. In a mature individual, cells divide to replace old and dying cells, or to aid with healing. Cancer cells don’t follow this pattern.
Structural damage to DNA can sometimes occur in cells. When this happens, the cell will either repair the damage, if possible, or die. Cancerous cells do not repair the damage, but they don’t die either. Instead they divide and grow, replicating the damage in the divided cells. This growth is uncontrollable through normal bodily mechanisms and can form tumors and attack normal, healthy cells. The cancerous cells can spread or metastasize via the circulatory and lymphatic systems, forming tumors in other parts of the body.
The incidence of cancer is widespread and has a profound impact on individuals and society as a whole. It is estimated that half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer at some point in their lives. The costs – physical, emotional, and financial – both individually and for the community at large, are staggering.
Foods That Fight Cancer – Paleo Learnings
Paleopathologists, scientists who study ancient human remains, have discovered evidence of cancer in the fossil record. The incidence is fairly low, not surprisingly, since we only have skeletal remains, for the most part. All the soft tissue has deteriorated and vanished, leaving only bones. The only evidence remaining is for cancers that either originated in, or metastasized to, bones. There are approximately 200 instances of fossilized cancer in collections throughout the world.
We also know that cancer occurs in many animals and even in plants. This, again, is not surprising. Any complex organism with billions or trillions of cells, each functioning independently, is bound to develop mistakes or aberrations. In fact, it is estimated that the human body produces from several hundred to as many as 10,000 cells daily with faulty programming. In most cases, the body’s immune system can eliminate them before they can gain a foothold and replicate.
So we know from actual physical evidence that cancer has been with us for much of our existence as a species. We also know that potentially damaged cells are a natural consequence of any complex organism. We know something else, however.
We know that the incidence of cancer has risen and that the world rates for cancer continue to rise. We know that 90% to 95% of all cancers are caused by environmental and lifestyle factors. Cancer is classified as a lifestyle or civilization disease, and with good reason. Diet, tobacco, alcohol, lack of exercise, and pollutants all take their toll on the body, and create a situation in which abnormal cells can flourish. The spread of the Western lifestyle throughout the world, and the increase in cases of cancer is easily tracked.
Towards an Anti Cancer Diet
Food choices are perhaps the most important factors in assessing cancer risk. It is estimated that 35% or more of cancer deaths can be attributed to diet. Cancer is relatively rare in those few remaining populations which still eat a diet similar to the hunter-gatherer diet that early man lived on. Instead of the carbohydrate-rich diet consumed by Western and Western-influenced societies today, the hunter-gatherer diet is typically rich in fruits and vegetables, berries, nuts and meats. It is essentially devoid of grain products and simple sugars, items found in abundance in the common American diet.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that grains and gluten, a protein found in grains, can be detrimental to health and can create an internal environment which encourages cancer growth. Gluten is known to trigger an inflammatory response in at least 80% of those who consume it. Even among those who don’t experience inflammation, 30% produce antibodies in response to ingested gluten. Production of antibodies indicates that the body is reacting to gluten as a potential threat.
Even more troubling, one of the constituent proteins of gluten, gliadin is similar to the tissue proteins of the thyroid and pancreas. When the body produces antibodies to gliadin, there is a possibility that they may attack these organs as well. This, in turn, raises the risk of autoimmune diseases.
The body’s inflammation response to gluten in such a large segment of the population is a very significant finding. Inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury. It occurs when antibodies, blood cells, and other elements are sent to the point of distress, in an effort to heal the area. It is now widely understood by clinicians and scientists that inflammation is the initial manifestation of virtually every known disease, including cancer, which is also why most cancer fighting foods have anti-inflammatory properties on the cellular level! Reducing and preventing inflammation is vitally important. Eliminating gluten may be an important step in this goal.
Gluten made its way into the human diet about 10,000 years ago. That time was a pivotal point in human history, marking both the appearance of modern man with our current genetic make-up, and the introduction of agriculture and subsequent abandonment of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Man cultivated and consumed grain products for the first time in his history. Prior to that, man’s diet consisted primarily of lean meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Given recent research, there is good reason to believe that a return to this traditional diet, known as the paleo diet, makes a lot of sense.
Supplement manufacturers and various juice companies insert mounds of sugar into their so-called cancer fighting drinks, vitamins, herbs and supplements so it’s a good idea to assume you’re being marketed to and read the product package carefully. After all, drinking a liter of carrot juice is an extremely high-sugar indulgence, despite it being “natural”. Natural things can hurt you just as much as artificial things! The trick here is recognizing when a given supplement, herb, vitamin or other food has health drawbacks that render its antioxidant and other anti cancer diet properties null and void. Nowhere in our evolutionary past would we have found our ancestors slurping a kilogram worth of carrot puree, lovingly liquified with the aid of a large rock. So, a return to simplicity is LONG overdue!
Conclusion: Returning to Foods That Prevent Cancer
The paleo diet emphasizes foods that were traditionally eaten by humans in the so-called Stone Age, and is more consistent with the way man evolved. Gluten and sugars are eliminated along with their attendant inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, substances which are vitally important to healthy brain function and woefully sparse in our modern diet, are available in abundance. Additives, food colorings, and bizarre chemicals are eliminated. Good, wholesome food that fights cancer. Paleolithic man has something to teach us.