November 13, 2012

Preventing Cancer: Diet and Exercise

I’ve been writing about curcumin – the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric – for months. It’s been used medically for millennia in south Asia, and touted in overwhelming numbers of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating its ability to prevent and treat many illnesses and conditions. Just enter “curcumin” in the “Search This Blog” bar below on the right, hit the "search" button, and you’ll get lots of links to posts about this unheralded wonder substance.

So, I wasn’t surprised to see this comment in an article by Pam Harrison in the online journal titled “Specific Plants Protect Against Specific, Not All, Cancers”:
Probably the best example of a phytochemical that serves as an anti-inflammatory is curcumin. “Turmeric is the most potent source of curcumin, and curcumin is the most potent anti-inflammatory phytochemical we know,” Dr. Beliveau told Medscape Medical News.
The article offered a variety of examples to support its headline. Here are some of the bullet-points:

  • A key promoter of certain cancers, unhealthy diets typically include insufficient fruits and vegetables. 
  • Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for cancer, and certain plants reduce particular kinds of inflammation. EXAMPLE: diets that regularly include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts) can reduce bladder and prostate cancers by 50%, and lung cancer by 30%. 
  • Those cruciferous vegetables also contain sulforafane, a compound capable of killing cancer cells directly. 
  • Tomato consumption can reduce prostate cancer risk by 25%. 
  • Leafy green vegetables can reduce pancreatic cancer risk by 75%. 
  • Green tea combats tumor growth and metastasis. 
  • Resveratrol from grapes aids in the normal removal of naturally dying cells, and therefore reduces the development of tumors. 
Then There's Obesity
Next, the article identifies obesity as the “other side” of the cancer story. Key points:
  • Obesity, poor diet, and inactivity account for about 35% of all cancers, similar to smoking. 
  • Obese women are four times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women of normal weight. 
  • Overweight men are 50% more likely to die from prostate cancer than men of normal weight. Obese men are 150% more likely to die from the disease. 
Dr. Beliveau said that the same five “golden rules” generally associated with disease prevention certainly apply to cancer prevention specifically:
  1. Don’t smoke. 
  2. Maintain a normal body mass index (for cancer prevention, a BMI of 21-23 kg/m2  is ideal). 
  3. Eat lots of plant products: fruits, vegetables, whole grains. 
  4. Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. 
  5. Avoid junk food. 
Said Beliveau:
Human cancers are monoclonal. It takes a single tumor cell decades to progress to a mass of billions of cells. So most people over 40 are tumor carriers, but the tumor starts in adolescence…. It is our lifestyle that creates a favorable or unfavorable environment for microtubules to evolve into a clinically relevant cancer. 
This article underscores what I see over and over again in my research: it’s all about diet and exercise.

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