Cancer and Diet, Some Basics…

I definitely am not an expert of any kind, but after learning about diet’s role in cancer prevention from a class I am taking I wanted to share! Phytonutrients, think vitamins and minerals, have powerful effects on the body and are capable of turning cells on and off, fighting free radicals, among other benefits. Dr. Kucuk, a leading oncologist at Emory University, discussed harnessing the power of specific phytonutrients, such as genistein and lycopene, and the drastic benefits that result in numerous types of cancer. Lycopene, found in high levels in tomatoes, has reactions with free radicals and helps diminish DNA damage in the body. Dr. Kucuk emphasized the synergistic value of tomato, which includes beta-carotene, lycopene, and astaxanthin, among other nutrients. These nutrients acting together have the most powerful effects against cancer.

Although soy gets a bad rap, it has some serious benefits. Genistein, a soy isoflavone, helps block cancer cell growth because it sensitizes cancer cells. This means that genistein supplementation can enhance the benefits of chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. Genistein attacks NfkB, which maintains cancer cell resistance, and increases the cell’s vulnerability to treatment. Genistein has no known negative side effects and can only improve cancer outcomes, particularly prostate cancer outcomes.

A diet high in antioxidants fights free radicals in the body and helps decrease oxidative stress. Continued oxidative stress leads to damage of DNA, lipids, and proteins. Healthy fats, omega 3s, help diminish oxidative stress in the body. It is not a difficult equation; we simply need to eat healthier fats and focus onwhole foods containing potent phytonutrients, like tomatoes and soy.

Dr. Kucuk emphasized a diet high in vegetables, which echoes common dietary guidelines. Fresh, healthy foods are a staple of a healthy diet, no matter what population or illness. In the Mediterranean diet, there is an emphasis on leafy greens
, which naturally contain high levels of phytonutrients. In the paleo diet, there is a focus on fresh fruits and veggies. In the DASH diet, we see the same advice. Need I continue listing? Beneficial phytonutrients found in these whole foods can fight oxidative damage that is occurring within the body everyday as a result of our environment and the natural aging process.

I have outlined how genistein and lycopene work to prevent cancer above (in a highly simplified way!), but beyond their specific mechanisms they can have other protective impacts. Before cancer cells form, maintaining a diet full of healthy foods, with a focus on tomato and soy products, can help diminish oxidative stress in the body. Decreased oxidative stress can decrease inflammation and improve overall wellbeing, which would lead to decreased rates of cancer theoretically. Phytonutrients are a safe means of decreasing risk and enhancing wellbeing that promotes a healthy lifestyle and improved quality of life. Keep on veggin’ out!

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