How foods fight cancer Print

The process that leads to the formation of cancer tumours involves fundamental changes in the structure and function of DNA, the carrier of genetic information in the cells.
  1. Initiation is the first stage of cancer when an external or internal carcinogen induces change in the genetic makeup of the cell. This creates a lesion which gives the cell the potential for tumorous growth. Role of foods: The body?s carcinogenic load may be increased by meat cooked at very high temperatures, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in cooked food), and N-nitroso compounds (found in some spoilt foods). Diets high in vegetables and fruits and foods rich in bioactive compounds may trigger detoxification enzymes. Which in turn reduce the exposure  of DNA to carcinogens. Bioactive compounds such as allium, found in onions and garlic, have anticarcinogenic mechanisms. Another bioactive, dithiolthiones, found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, inhibits enzymes that activate carcinogens.

  2. Promotion is the next stage of the cancer process and involves the proliferation of cells which now transform into a discernible group. Role of foods: It is critical to maintain the energy balance ? it may make the difference between normal cell behaviour and expansion of the abnormal cells. Nutrients that have shown a protective effect against tumour promotion include selenium and Vitamin D. Selenium, a mineral found in cereals, fish, meat, liver and sea food functions as a co-factor for an enzyme that prevents tissue damage. Diet rich in Vitamin D includes small fish (when eaten with their bones) and egg yolk.

  3. Progression is the last stage of cancer. There is widespread DNA damage in this stage. Ultimately there is metastasis, whereby tumour cells migrate to distant sites in the body. Role of foods: Folates in green, leafy vegetables and wholegrain cereals may help reduce damage to DNA. Vegetables and fruits have pigments called carotenoids that have antioxidant properties. Beta Carotene is the most abundant. It is found in orange coloured vegetables and fruits and leafy vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes and spinach.

  • Antioxidants in carrots include alpha-carotene & beta-carotene.

  • Grapes contain ellagic acid, a scavenger of carcinogens.

  • Caffeic acid in apples increases the production of enzymes that make carcinogens more soluble in water and ultimately ejects them from the body.

  • The indoles in cauliflower promote production of enzymes that make the oestrogen less effective, reducing the risk of breast cancer.

  • Ginger has mechanisms that suppress the creation of adducts.

  • Terpenes in oranges may prevent lung cancer.

  • Allium vegetables like garlic lower the risk of gastrointestinal cancer.

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