As a Naturopathic Doctor who fully practices integrative cancer care medicine, I know what it takes to manage and combat cancer. When approaching a case, although specific treatments and medicines trump, diet also plays a significant clinical role. Certain foods carry a robust profile of anti cancer potential, however treatment support and success is largely based on which foods provide the best bang for the buck. Despite some foods being evidenced only for specific cancer types, if you have cancer, these are the top foods you should be eating.
1. Cruciferous vegetables
Almost every major cancer has scientific evidence validating the probable anti cancer effect that cruciferous vegetables have on them. The primary anti cancer mechanisms of this powerful group of vegetables come from the effect that some of its specific phytochemicals (sulforaphane, DIM, I3C) have on cancers ability to grow, spread and survive. Common cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale. Consume at least 3 cups per week.
Resveratrol is a phenolic compound naturally found in peanuts, red wine, red grapes, and blueberries. Resveratrol possesses many beneficial activities, including anti cancer potential, and research shows it contributes to reversing multi-drug resistance in cancer cells, sensitizes cancer cells to standard chemotherapeutic agents, and is actively cytotoxic to cancer cells.
3. Green Tea
The scientific evidence on green tea and cancer is quite robust. It’s primary constituent, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been extensively studied for its synergy with other anti cancer compounds, reduction in cancer metastases, preventative cancer benefits, impacts on cancer stem cells, and its ability to shut down blood vessel development by cancer cells (which is a large contributor to cancer survival and spread). Although one would need to consume 5-10 cups of green tea per day to potentiate these benefits, green tea extracts, powders and concentrates are available to augment the necessary doses.
Selenium is an essential micronutrient prominently found in foods such as brazil nuts, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, many grains and legumes, and any food grown in selenium rich soil. Consuming even 2 brazil nuts per day can lend itself to the anti cancer benefits selenium provides. Research has shown that selenium may be anti proliferative, meaning it might be therapeutic to help reduce cancers potential to grow and metastasize. For those considering selenium in supplement form, most benefit is shown when taken in yeast form (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
The anti cancer evidence on turmeric is so well studied, it is becoming very common knowledge to consider turmeric as a go to food when it comes to cancer. One of its primary polyphenols, curcumin, has been implicated as one of turmerics main constituents providing a wide array of anti cancer potential. Among the multitude of cancers it targets, the benefits of turmeric include improved effectiveness of chemotherapeutics when used in combination to its direct cytotoxic effects on a multitude of cellular pathways implicated in the cancer process. Major studies have also proven that turmeric can protect healthy cells against damage from radiation and chemotherapy induced insults. This is one food that is an absolute must. Daily intake begins at approximately 1tbsp of turmeric powder, to gram doses of concentrated curcumin extracts.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle may not be as well known to the average person interested in using foods to help fight cancer. It is, however, a very therapeutic anti cancer agent. Although many nutrients in milk thistle are responsible for their cancer fighting potential, it’s the full phytochemical profile that really solidifies its benefit . Milk thistle has proven beneficial in cancer based on its anti inflammatory, cancer killing, anti angiogenic, ability to reduce cancer spread and invasion, and activity in inhibiting cancer growth. Studies also show that milk thistle may play a significant role in protecting against chemotherapy side effects, as well as enhancing the cytotoxic effects of some cancer drugs. The easiest way to reap the anti cancer benefits of milk thistle is by drinking it either as a tea or in a concentrated liquid extract form.
Many other potent anti cancer foods exist, however the above are proving hugely beneficial across the spectrum of a multitude of cancers. Although many of these foods should be included as an effective part of an integrated cancer care approach, beginning any type of dietary treatment alongside standard care interventions should only be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified naturopathic or integrated cancer focused doctor.