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Cruciferous vegetables like brocolli contain sulphoraphane, which is believed to have anticancer properties. — TNS

Eating these foods might help reduce your cancer risk

The significance of dietary choices extends beyond mere sustenance, as it can profoundly impact various facets of our health, including susceptibility to chronic ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and notably, cancer.

Mounting evidence underscores the profound influence of diet on the initiation and progression of cancer.Numerous foods harbour bioactive compounds known to impede cancer growth.

Several studies suggest that a heightened consumption of specific foods correlates with a diminished risk of cancer incidence. In this column, we explore the scientific findings surrounding 13 foods that hold promise in reducing cancer risk.

1. Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins

Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage all harbour sulphoraphane.

This is a plant compound abundant in cruciferous vegetables, which is renowned for its potential anticancer properties. Sulphoraphane has shown significant promise in combating cancer.

In laboratory studies, it reduced breast cancer cells by 75% and facilitated the eradication of prostate cancer cells in animal experiments, reducing tumour volume by over 50%.

Additionally, increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a decreased risk of colorectal and colon cancer, according to a comprehensive analysis of 35 studies. Incorporating broccoli into your diet several times a week may confer some cancer-fighting advantages.

2. Carrots

A meta-analysis of five studies found that consuming carrots may decrease the likelihood of stomach cancer by up to 26%, while another study showed an 18% reduction in the probability of developing prostate cancer.

Additionally, a study investigating the dietary habits of 1,266 participants found that among current smokers, those who consumed carrots less frequently were three times more likely to develop lung cancer, compared to those who ate carrots at least once per week.

Incorporating carrots into your diet, whether as a healthy snack or a delectable side dish, a few times weekly may potentially mitigate your cancer risk.

3. Beans

Flaxseed, which may be able to reduce cancer growth and spread, is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into bread, smoothies, cereal and yoghurt, among others. — Photos: Filepic

Rich in fibre, beans have garnered attention in several studies for their potential protective effects against colorectal cancer. One notable study monitored 1,905 individuals with a history of colorectal tumours and revealed a trend.

Those who incorporated a higher amount of cooked, dried beans into their diets tended to experience a reduced risk of tumour recurrence. Based on these findings, integrating a few servings of beans into your weekly meals may not only elevate your fibre intake, but also potentially mitigate your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

4. Berries

Abundant in anthocyanins – plant pigments renowned for their antioxidant properties – berries have garnered attention for their potential role in reducing cancer risk. In a study involving 25 individuals with colorectal cancer, treatment with bilberry extract for seven days resulted in a promising 7% reduction in cancer cell growth.

Similarly, administering freeze-dried black raspberries to patients with oral cancer in a small-scale study showed positive outcomes, with a decrease in certain markers associated with cancer progression.

One study observed a reduction in oesophageal tumour incidence by up to 54% and a decrease in tumour count by as much as 62%. Given these findings, integrating a serving or two of berries into your daily diet may aid in thwarting cancer development.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is renowned for its myriad health benefits, including its capacity to regulate blood sugar levels, alleviate inflammation and impede the spread of cancer cells. In-vitro experiments have demonstrated promising outcomes, indicating that cinnamon extract could suppress the proliferation of cancer cells and induce their apoptosis (death).

Another study utilising cinnamon essential oil observed its ability to inhibit the growth of head and neck cancer cells, while significantly reducing tumour size. Meanwhile, an animal study revealed that cinnamon extract induced tumour cell death, consequently attenuating tumour growth and metastasis.

Incorporating half to one teaspoon (2–4 grammes) of cinnamon into your daily diet may not only offer potential benefits in cancer prevention, but also contribute to mitigating blood sugar levels and inflammation.

6. Nuts

Evidence suggests a potential association between nut consumption and a reduced risk of certain cancers. For instance, a long-term study spanning 30 years with 30,708 participants found that regular nut consumption was linked to a lower incidence of colorectal, pancreatic and endometrial cancers.

Specific types of nuts may offer unique protective benefits. Brazil nuts, which are rich in selenium, have been noted to potentially protect against lung cancer, particularly in individuals with low selenium levels.

Likewise, an animal study involving walnuts demonstrated a remarkable reduction in the growth rate of breast cancer cells and tumour count. These findings suggest that incorporating a serving of nuts into your daily diet may confer a decreased risk of cancer in the future.

The lycopene in tomatoes, which is responsible for its red hue, also has anticancer properties.

7. Olive oil

Renowned for its numerous health benefits, olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Multiple studies have underscored the potential of increased olive oil consumption in cancer prevention.

A comprehensive review, comprising 19 studies, revealed that individuals with the highest olive oil intake exhibited a decreased risk of breast cancer and cancers of the digestive system, compared to those with the lowest intake.

Further supporting evidence emerges from a global analysis of cancer rates across 28 countries, where regions with elevated olive oil consumption displayed lower incidences of colorectal cancer.

Whether drizzled over salads and cooked vegetables or incorporated into marinades for meat, fish or poultry, the versatility of olive oil makes it a seamless substitution for other oils and enables the eater to reap its health advantages.

8. Turmeric

Turmeric, renowned for its medicinal properties, contains curcumin, a potent compound with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and potential anticancer effects. Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin can inhibit the spread of colon cancer cells by targeting specific enzymes linked to cancer growth.

Similar effects have been observed in test-tube studies involving head and neck cancer cells, as well as lung, breast and prostate cancer cells. To harness turmeric’s benefits, aim for a daily intake of half to three teaspoons (1–3g) of ground turmeric. Pairing it with black pepper can enhance its absorption.

9. Citrus fruits

Consumption of citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges, has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers in various studies. A large-scale study revealed that individuals with higher citrus fruit consumption exhibited a decreased risk of cancers affecting the digestive and upper respiratory tracts.

Additionally, a review encompassing nine studies found a correlation between greater citrus fruit intake and a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. Having at least three servings of citrus fruits per week may confer protective benefits against specific cancer types.

10. Flaxseed

Cinnamon may not only help prevent cancer, but also help control your blood sugar levels and relieve inflammation.f

Research indicates that flaxseed consumption may have beneficial effects in cancer prevention and treatment. In a study involving 32 women with breast cancer, daily intake of flaxseed muffins resulted in decreased levels of tumour growth markers and increased cancer cell death, compared to a placebo group.

Similarly, in a study of 161 men with prostate cancer, flaxseed consumption was linked to reduced cancer cell growth and spread. Additionally, the high fibre content of flaxseed has been suggested to lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

Incorporating one tablespoon (10g) of ground flaxseed into your daily diet by adding it to smoothies, cereal, yoghurt or baked goods can potentially contribute to cancer prevention efforts.

11. Tomatoes

Lycopene, the compound responsible for the vibrant red hue of tomatoes, also boasts anticancer properties. Multiple studies have suggested that increasing lycopene and tomato intake could potentially lower the risk of prostate cancer.

For example, a study involving 47,365 participants highlighted a correlation between greater consumption of tomato sauce and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. To enhance your tomato intake, consider incorporating a serving or two into your daily diet through sandwiches, salads, sauces or pasta dishes.

12. Garlic

Allicin, the active component in garlic, has exhibited cancer cell-killing properties in numerous test-tube studies. A study involving 543,220 participants found that individuals who consumed ample Allium vegetables, including garlic, had a lower risk of stomach cancer, compared to those who consumed them infrequently.

Additionally, another study observed a correlation between higher garlic intake and a reduced risk of prostate cancer among 471 men.

13. Fatty fish

Including a few servings of fish in your weekly diet may potentially lower your risk of cancer, according to some research. A large-scale study demonstrated that higher fish intake was associated with a decreased risk of digestive tract cancer.

Another study involving 478,040 adults found that increased fish consumption correlated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, while red and processed meats were associated with an increased risk. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and anchovies are particularly rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients believed to offer protective effects against cancer.

Adequate vitamin D levels are thought to provide protection against cancer development, while omega-3 fatty acids are believed to impede disease progression. To maximise the potential health benefits of these nutrients, aim for two servings of fatty fish per week.

The bottom line

While no single food can guarantee protection against cancer, including the above nutrient-rich foods in your diet may be able to help reduce the spread and growth of cancer cells, as well as promote overall health.

It is also essential to maintain a balanced diet, stay physically active, keep a healthy weight, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and practice sun safety, in order to lower your risk of cancer and enhance your well-being.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 06 May 2024

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