Eating healthfully is a cornerstone of the anti-aging lifestyle. Doing so is also a key approach for cancer protection. People who enjoy 7 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day may reduce the risk of dying by a significant 42%. Oyinlola Oyebode and colleagues from the University College London (UK) analyzed data from 65,226 people who took part in the Health Survey for England between 2001 and 2013 to evaluate the effect of eating habits on mortality risk. After adjustment for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, body mass index, education, physical activity, and alcohol intake, results showed that eating 7 or more portions reduced the risk of dying from cancer by 25% and the risk of dying from heart disease by 31%. Compared to eating less than 1 portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death from any cause was reduced by 14% by eating 1 to 3 portions, 29% for 3 to 5 portions, 36% for 5 to 7 portions, and 42% for 7 or more. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly better health benefits than fruit. "The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you're happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good," said Oyebode.
In this column, we share studies that suggest that each of us harvests the protective potential of foods. By enjoying a variety of colorful and flavorful foods every day, you may not only dramatically reduce your risks of cancer but also enhance the quality of your life as well.
Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, Mindell JS. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health. March 31, 2014.
Citrus: Oranges, Grapefruits, Lemons
Citrus fruits are a good source of flavanols and related antioxidant compounds for which previous studies have suggested cancer risk-reductive effects. Aedín Cassidy and colleagues from the University of East Anglia (UK) followed 171,940 women, enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study and Nurses' Health Study II, to ascertain associations between intakes of total flavonoids and their subclasses, on the risk of ovarian cancer. Dietary intake was calculated from questionnaires collected every 4 years. During 16 to 22 years of follow-up, 723 cases of ovarian cancer were confirmed. Data analysis revealed that while total flavonoids were not statistically significantly associated with ovarian cancer risk, subjects in the highest quintiles of flavanol and flavanone intakes were at modestly lower risk of ovarian cancer. Specifically, dietary intakes of 75 mg/day of flavanols and flavanones were found to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 21%, especially in women ages 30 to 55 years. The study authors report: "Higher intakes of flavonols and flavanones … may be associated with lower risk of ovarian cancer."
Cassidy A, Huang T, Rice MS, Rimm EB, Tworoger SS. Intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. October 2014; ajcn.088708.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopenes, antioxidant compounds for which previous studies suggest anticancer effects. Adana Llanos and colleagues from Ohio State University (US) completed a longitudinal crossover study examining the effects of both tomato-rich and soy-rich diets in a group of 70 postmenopausal women. For 10 weeks, the participants ate tomato products containing at least 25 milligrams of lycopene daily. For a separate 10-week period, the subjects consumed at least 40 grams of soy protein daily. Before each test period began, the women were instructed to abstain from eating both tomato and soy products for 2 weeks. Researchers observed that in the tomato-rich segment of the diet, participants' levels of adiponectin – a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels – climbed 9%. This effect was slightly stronger in women who had a lower body mass index. The study authors conclude: "Increasing dietary consumption of tomato-based foods may beneficially increase serum adiponectin concentrations among postmenopausal women at increased breast cancer risk, especially those who are not obese."
A tomato-rich diet may markedly lower a man's risk of developing prostate cancer. Vanessa Er and colleagues from the University of Bristol (UK) assessed the diets and lifestyle of 1806 men, ages 50 to 69 years, with prostate cancer, enrolled in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) study. Comparing the data with 12,005 cancer-free men, the team established a prostate cancer "dietary index" which consists of dietary components – selenium, calcium, and foods rich in lycopene – that have been linked to prostate cancer. Men who had optimal intake of these three dietary components had a lower risk of prostate cancer. Specifically, tomatoes and tomato-based foods were shown to be most beneficial, lending an 18% reduction in risk in men who consumed over 10 portions a week. Observing, "Adherence to the prostate cancer-specific dietary recommendations was associated with decreased risk of prostate cancer," the study authors write: "High intake of plant foods and tomato products in particular may help protect against prostate cancer."
Llanos AA, Peng J, Pennell ML, et al. Effects of tomato and soy on serum adipokine concentrations in postmenopausal women at increased breast cancer risk: a cross-over dietary intervention trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 18 Dec. 2013.
Er V, Lane JA, Martin RM, et al. Adherence to dietary and lifestyle recommendations and prostate cancer risk in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014 Jul 13. pii:cebp.0322.2014.
A number of previous studies report a protective effect of garlic, in both in vitro and in vivo experimental studies of cancer. Zi-Yi Jin and colleagues from the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China) interviewed 1424 lung cancer patients, as well as 4543 healthy control subjects, to ascertain lifestyle behaviors (particularly, if they smoked) and dietary habits (particularly, how much garlic they ate). The data revealed that consuming raw garlic may reduce lung cancer risk by as much as 44%. Among smokers, eating raw garlic 2 to 3 times a week may reduce lung cancer risk by as much as 30%. Noting a "protective association between intake of raw garlic and lung cancer," the study authors conclude: "Garlic may potentially serve as a chemopreventive agent for lung cancer."
Jin Z-Y, Wu M, Han R-Q, et al. Raw garlic consumption as a protective factor for lung cancer, a population-based case–control study in a Chinese population. Cancer Prev Res. July 2013;6:711–718.
Known best as the substance in turmeric that gives the spice its characteristic yellow color, curcumin has been found by previous studies to exert antioxidant, anti-inflammation, anticancer, and lipid-lowering effects. Gautam Sethi and colleagues from Curtin University (Australia) completed a review of past clinical trials involving curcumin for cancer. Observing that the compound confers potent anti-inflammatory effects, the team reports that curcumin is especially effective for multiple myeloma patients and those suffering from pancreatic cancer. Noting that doses up to 12 grams appear to be nontoxic, the investigators point out that curcumin targets the key oncogenic proteins – namely, NF-kappaB, STAT3, and AP-1. The study authors write: "Anti-cancer effects are predominantly mediated through [curcumin's] negative regulation of various transcription factors, growth factors, inflammatory cytokines, protein kinases, and other oncogenic molecules. It also abrogates proliferation of cancer cells by arresting them at different phases of the cell cycle and/or by inducing their apoptosis."
Shanmugam MK, Rane G, Kanchi MM, et al. The multifaceted role of curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment. Molecules. 2015 Feb 5;20(2):2728–2769.
Peppermint and Chamomile Teas
Drinking peppermint or chamomile tea, even as little as once a week, may reduce a person's risk of distal colon cancer. Lin Fritschi and colleagues from Curtin University (Australia) analyzed data from 854 incident cases and 948 controls in a case-control study of colorectal cancer in Western Australia. The researchers used multivariable logistic regression to analyze the associations of black tea (with and without milk), green tea, herbal tea, hot coffee, iced coffee, and milk with colorectal cancer. Consumption of black tea (with or without milk), green tea, decaffeinated coffee, and milk were not significantly associated with colorectal cancer risk. Those who drank herbal tea, even as little as once a week, reduced their risk of distal colon cancer.
Green CJ, de Dauwe P, Boyle T, Tabatabaei SM, Fritschi L, Heyworth JS. Tea, coffee, and milk consumption and colorectal cancer risk. J Epidemiol. 2014;24(2):146–153.
Cancer May Increase Other Risks
To add to the long list of reasons to reduce cancer risk, it is important to be aware that cancer may raise a person's risk of other diseases. Flinders University (Australia) researchers report that people with cancer may be at a higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol in cancer survivors, with the correlation more so elevated among men. Bogda Koczwara and colleagues analyzed data collected on the general health of 2160 South Australian adult cancer survivors with 4100 matched adults without cancer. Their team revealed a much higher prevalence of chronic conditions in the cancer group than the noncancer group, irrespective of lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. Observing, "Despite similar lifestyle habits and BMI, the prevalence of chronic conditions was significantly higher among people with a history of cancer than among controls without cancer," the study authors submit: "This supports the importance of chronic disease management as part of health care after a diagnosis of cancer."
Berry NM, Miller MD, Woodman RJ, et al. Differences in chronic conditions and lifestyle behaviour between people with a history of cancer and matched controls. Med J Aust. 2014;201(2):96–100.
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