Healthy Choices for Cancer Prevention

While it's true that cancer respects no boundaries, in most instances environmental factors are responsible. Making healthy choices like those recommended here will go a long way to helping you with cancer prevention.

| February/March 2009

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Worldwide, in 2002, there were approximately 11 million new cases of cancer, 7 million cancer deaths, and almost 25 million people living with cancer. U.S. projections for 2008 estimate almost 1.44 million new cancer cases and over 565,000 deaths. However, cancer death rates have been slowly but steadily declining, thanks to earlier detection and treatment advances. While some people inherit genes that dramatically raise the risk for certain cancers, only 5 percent to 10 percent of cancers of the breast, ovaries, and colon are attributed to genetic factors. This means that environmental factors, many of which you can control, cause the majority of cases. For cancer prevention and risk reduction, here are some of the most important healthy choices you can make.

Nutrition Matters

A 1997 report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research estimated that diet accounted for one-third of cancer deaths. Dr. Eleni Linos, who researches the impact of diet on cancer at Harvard Medical School, says, “The field of nutrition and cancer is complicated.” Linos says that dietary relationships can vary with different types of cancer. Nevertheless, because good diet is so important to overall health and especially cardiovascular health, it would be silly to throw up our hands and eat fried chicken and Twinkies all day. Here are some diet recommendations.

Follow a plant-based diet. Plant foods contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, plus plant pigments and compounds similar to estrogen. Many of these compounds protect us by acting as antioxidants, stimulating the immune system, enhancing detoxification and modulating hormones. Plus, all plants contain the green pigment chlorophyll, which turns on genes that crank out detoxifying enzymes, thus reducing exposure to carcinogens.

Graze on berries. Berries, cherries and red grapes all are nutrient dense. Anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid that provides those red, blue and purple pigments) are antioxidant and anti-inflam-matory, so they have anti-cancer effects.

Crunch cruciferous vegetables. This plant family — broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mung beans, alfalfa sprouts (Read more about cooking with sprouts in Kitchen Counter Gardening: Try Sprouting Seeds.), Brussels sprouts, arugula, watercress and others — contains glucosinolates, which break down in the body to form anti-cancer substances. Studies link increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables with reduced cancer risk. Broccoli is particularly famous for its anti-cancer power.

Eat complex carbs. Overeating refined carbohydrates (particularly combined with excess weight and inactivity) can elevate blood sugars, which can stimulate cancer growth. A Korean study found that among diabetics with high blood glucose levels, the risk of cancer deaths rose 27 percent in men and 31 percent in women.

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