Monday Medical: Cut cancer off with fruits and vegetables
November 29, 2015
There's yet another reason to feel good about eating your fruits and vegetables: Scientists have found fruits and vegetables may have the ability to stop cancer growth.
For a cancer to develop, it needs nutrients and oxygen, both of which are delivered by blood vessels. Stop that inflow, and the cancer stops growing.
"For a cancer to grow or a cancer to metastasize, it needs vessels, it needs oxygen, it needs nutrients," said Dr. Charlie Petersen, a Steamboat Springs internal medicine doctor and presenter at YVMC's Real Food nutrition seminars. "If you can cut that off, you can prevent spread."
A number of drugs take advantage of this fact by stopping the growth of blood vessels and, in effect, starving the cancer. But because of cost and side effects, the drugs may not be realistic for cancer prevention.
The role of angiogenesis
Angiogenesis — the creation, growth and development of blood vessels — is the process that allows cancer to grow. Angiogenesis can also aid in healing, so it is not always a negative.
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Cancers begin as tiny microtumors, which are commonly present in healthy adults. These tumors can grow to about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen on their own, but to get larger, they need dedicated blood vessels to bring oxygen and nutrients.
"It's thought that we're forming microtumors all the time," Petersen said. "It's not a question of can we avoid this. The question is, what's going to happen to them?"
Most microtumors never become cancer. Some scientists think inhibiting angiogenesis is one factor in preventing microtumors from growing and metastasizing.
Food is powerful
That's where food comes in. Research is showing fruits, vegetables, other whole foods and teas can be powerful in preventing blood vessel growth.
The list of beneficial foods is long and includes green tea, soy, grapes and red wine, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, onion, berries, apples and dark chocolate.
With anti-angiogenic properties, fruits and vegetables play an important role in preventing cancer. And the best thing about upping your intake of healthy foods is there isn't really a downside, as these foods contribute to overall health.
"Probably as important as reducing the bad things, I always say to people, 'Are you getting enough of the good stuff?'" Petersen said.
It's thought that about a third of the risk of developing cancer can be attributed to diet, Petersen said. The first rule: Stay slim.
"The most important dietary strategy is not to gain weight," Petersen said.
Next, try adding a range of vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods into your diet. Variety is recommended, as some foods — such as tomatoes with olive oil — work doubly well when eaten together.
Keeping it in perspective
As with everything, perspective is important.
"Is there a way of eating that might have some degree of preventative impact? Yes," Petersen said. "But no one would say if you have an invasive tumor, you're going to treat it with cauliflower."
So enjoy your fruits and vegetables, not just for their colors and flavors and textures, but also for the fact that they work hard behind the scenes to keep your body healthy.
This article references data from the journal article "Tumor Angiogenesis as a Target for Dietary Cancer Prevention," Journal of Oncology, 2012. Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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