01.04.2009 Naturopathy

Eating to Beat Cancer

Jeremy Hill shares some powerfully good food tips for staying healthy

Cancer is complicated to say the least. You see, you don't get "cancer"...you get one of the couple of hundred different types of cancer...with non-melanoma skin cancers being the most common, while cancers of the prostate, breasts, lungs and bowels are the next most common in the western world. Cancer death rates are second only to heart disease, with lung cancer being responsible for more deaths than any other cancer.

And what caused your specific cancer can vary wildly from what caused another person's cancer. Cancer causing factors can range from a virus to bacteria, from a deficiency to a toxin, from stress to an inherited genetic propensity, from hormones to obesity, from inactivity to inflammation, and while they're most of the main ones, the list is not complete.

Subsequently, how you treat a cancer will generally vary incredibly according to the many differing factors that are involved in your specific cancer: your age, your gender, your health, your budget, your belief systems and who you choose to care for you and which approaches they tend to favour.

So whether you have been struggling with cancer long term, whether you have just been told that you have cancer, or if perhaps you are just thinking preventatively, it is worth first of all confirming that you are covering the essentials. That is, exercising hard and often, not smoking, restricting alcohol and eating a healthy diet can really help you. Keeping your body weight in the healthy range is also crucial in reducing your risk of developing cancer, and very likely in reducing cancer progression. So keep in mind the fact that how much you choose to eat may play as much of a role in cancer risk and outcome as what you eat.

Recent research has shown that by simply following these basics, in a relatively short period of time you will be able to suppress the expression of certain genes that are involved in promoting the growth of tumours, or you will promote those genes involved in resisting tumour growth.

As always, with diet and lifestyle, things should ideally be tailored to suit the individual and their specific needs. However, there are several sweeping generalisations that can be fairly safely made as a good starting point.

Let's start with barbecues. They are a terrific way of heating up your meat, but so much so that a number of highly carcinogenic molecules are produced in amounts that have been shown to be hazardous to health. For a simple solution, try marinating your meat for six hours in soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, or alternatively red wine or beer. These have all been shown to drop the levels of generated carcinogens, such as heterocyclic aromatic amines, by 50 to 90%. Given the fact that the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that a moderate intake of meat is okay, this is a handy tip for such a barbecue loving nation. However, processed meats, as in bacon, salami and sausages are out.

Next, don't go crazy with the carbohydrates. A high carbohydrate diet has been associated with an elevation in blood insulin and weight gain, both of which are known to increase the risk of developing cancer, and the aggressiveness of the cancers. But don't go overboard: cutting out carbohydrates may not be your answer. But just restricting the amount, and favouring unprocessed foods is an excellent start - although everyone has differing needs and professional advice regarding those needs may help clarify things. This is especially relevant if you actually do have cancer.

Now how about we spice things up a little? Some powerful herbs and spices can be found in the average kitchen. Garlic and turmeric are good examples of easily useable ingredients with documented benefits in reducing the risk of, and in supporting the body's fight against, cancers - their combination of effects include boosting immunity, the reduction of inflammatory mediators and the neutralisation of carcinogens through detoxification.

Vegetables seem to provide a whole dispensary of therapeutic nutrients that can help you avoid or fight cancer, with some being markedly better than others. For example, my wife knows well that I prefer not to take up valuable room on my plate with lettuce, when I could instead be loading it with spinach. And not a day goes by that I don't down a good sample of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choy). Today's breakfast alone included a great pile of broccoli, along with mushrooms and capsicum, sauteed in olive oil and soy sauce, served with beans, two eggs and a slice of sprouted wholegrain toast...and a coffee.

Other vegetables well worthy of inclusion are onion, beetroot, carrot, sweet potato, tomato and avocado (the last two are fruits, I know). Throw some green tea, berries and some fermented soy like tempe in and you have a very therapeutic diet indeed - and no room left for the bad stuff.

Good health,

Jeremy Hill.

Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill AdvDipNutMed, AdvDipWHM, NDAdv is a Perth-based naturopath