Diet and cancer research has been sparse for a number of reasons. One major reason is that reliable studies are not feasible to undertake with humans for obvious ethical reasons. Additionally, observational studies cannot show cause and effect. We are then left with animal studies that more than likely cannot be extrapolated to human cancers. In the past, only individual nutrients have been studied, i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). Studies with supplements have shown mixed results and doses are varied. Several studies using the antioxidant, beta carotene, resulted with more cases of lung cancer in smokers when compared with a placebo group. Diet patterns like the Mediterranean or vegetarian diets are difficult to conduct on large groups of human subjects due to cost.
Research on a flavonoid called sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables may be prudent, since these compounds called phytonutrients may hold the key to cancer prevention with diet. A study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that a high intake of broccoli greatly reduced the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
(In 2008, National Geographic writer Dan Buettner published his bestselling book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, about the five “longevity pockets” around the world. Here, Next Avenue Money and Work & Purpose editor Richard Eisenberg, a Gerontological Society of America Journalists in Aging Fellow, takes a different look at the Blue Zones — places where there’s a high concentration of people living past 90 without chronic illnesses. Rather than focusing on the residents’ diets, he reports on how the oldest people in the Blue Zones make their money last and what Americans and America can learn from this.)
This article discusses healthy aging from the financial aspect. For more information on the Blue Zones, search “Blue Zones” on the Food, Facts and Fads Homepage (www.foodfactsandfads.com).
Approximately 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 600,000 will die from it. But there are ways to protect yourself. American Cancer Society researchers estimate that at least 42% of new cancer cases may be avoidable , with 18% being related to lifestyle factors like diet and physical activity.
Foods contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and phyto- chemicals that help prevent DNA damage or assist in its repair. These substances are particularly found in plant foods and appear to work together in ways that provide the protection from certain cancers.
Attempt to prevent cancer by giving large groups of people vitamin supplements or phytochemical extracts thought to account for the plants beneficial effects on cancer development have not been successful. In fact, a number of studies have noted that more harm than good results from the use of high amounts of individual supplements such as vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin E. Particular types of food clearly provide greater levels protection against cancer than supplements.
One major role plant foods play in reducing cancer risk appears to be related to the antioxidant function of certain vitamins and chemicals. These antioxidants in food neutralize reactive oxygen and other molecules to prevent them from damaging the DNA and also to repair DNA when necessary. Many brightly colored vegetables and fruits contain phyto – chemicals that act as antioxidants, and their consumption is being encouraged. Taking antioxidants as supplements have not been shown to have the same beneficial effects as those found in foods. It is thought that these chemicals work best synergistically.
There are other ways that some phytochemicals help to fight cancer formation. Vegetables from the cruciferous family for example broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, appear to turn off genes that help produce proteins that increase the ability of cancer cells to grow blood vessels that support the continued spread of cancer. Substances in food that reduce inflammation may also decrease cancer risk by reducing the number of oxidized particles in cells that can damage DNA.
Dietary patterns and lifestyles related to reduced cancer risk
Consume a plant-based diet that includes five plus servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits daily, including those that are dark green, orange, and red.
Consume 3 plus whole grain products daily.
Regularly consume dried beans nuts and seeds.
Include fish and seafood lean beef, chicken, pork and other meats.
Avoid alcohol in excess.
Include 30 minutes 5 plus days a week of physical activity.
Maintain normal weight.
What does recent research say? From Eating Well Magazine, Nov. 2020
Consume more soy. Studies have shown that flavonoids in plants like soy can alter certain aspects of cells related to tumor growth. These flavonoids may protect against hormone related cancers like breast cancer. One recent analysis in the International Journal of Cancer looked at data from Chinese women enrolled in the Shanghai Women’s Health study and found that those who reported eating high amounts of soy in adulthood had a lower chance of both pre and post-menopausal breast cancer than those who rarely ate this nutrient packed legume.
Eat red and purple. The antioxidant called anthocyanin found in red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables may also have anti cancer properties. One trial in Cancer Prevention Research had 25 colo rectal cancer patients ingest varying levels of anthocyanins before their surgery dates. The scientists found a 7% drop in tumor proliferation in patients with the higher anthocyanin consumption doses.
Increase the Fiber. A systematic review and meta analysis published earlier this year in the journal Cancer found that participants in the US who ate the most fiber had a 8% lower risk of breast cancer than those who consume the least. The researchers noted that fiber rich foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against the disease by leveling post meal blood glucose spikes and improving insulin sensitivity. Fiber also increases the activity of compounds that lower circulating estrogen levels in the body. Another reason is that the nutrient has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer.
More About Diet and Cancer Relationships
Specific characteristics of diets that have been linked to the development of cancer include low vegetable and fruits intake and a lack of variety of vegetables and fruits excess alcohol intake, or more than one drink a day by women 2 drinks a day by men is associated with the development of a number of cancers of the digestive system. Diets routinely low in whole grain products and fiber appear to promote the development of colorectal cancer. Regular intake of charred meats or the black charred outer parts of high fat meats cooked at high temperatures may also promote DNA damage and cancer development. Other major risk factors for many types of cancer include smoking, physical inactivity, and excess body fat.
Frequent consumption of certain types of foods is sometimes more strongly related to particular cancers than to other types. For example, regular consumption of tomato products is related in particular to decreased risk of prostate cancer, and regular intake of black and green tea appears to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Bogus cancer treatments
Unorthodox, purported cancer cures such as macro- biotic diets, hydrogen peroxide ingestion; laetrile tablets, vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements, and animal gland therapy have not been shown to be effective treatments for cancer. Such remedies have been promoted since the early 1900s. They still exist, although not proven to work, they offer some cancer patients a last ray of hope. They should not be used as a substitute for conventional cancer treatments.
Do you feel guilty if you do not eat healthy foods? Most of us don’t but there are people who now comprise a group exhibiting a new eating disorder called orthorexia.
The following article by Mark Bittman may put this eating pattern in a reasonable perspective. The Bottom Line? Enjoy food but make healthy choices (most of the time). This philosophy as stated by Bittman is refreshing – Seems to resemble the traditional diet of the French – the Good Life Savored.
“Eating well is an integral part of their national heritage. To say the French know their food is an understatement and it has been said that even their children are serious “foodies” with two-hour multi course lunches (not uncommon in France)” – all this without guilt. Contrast that with the typical American with a quick drive-through grabbing a burger with fries and eating them in the car with some snacking throughout the day. The French also maintain their weight with little dieting, calorie counting or snacking.” They simply say: If you eat too much one day, cut back the next day. Pretty simple advice but it seems to work (at least for them).
Source: 30 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Cuisines. by Steven Jonas, M.D, and Sandra Gordon.
Note: Obesity rates in France are among the lowest in Europe, but have been increasing steadily. The increase has been attributed to an increased adoption of the Western diet or Standard American Diet.
In France, almost 40% are overweight (including obese). You can contrast that with the U.S. at 70% (overweight and obese).
A number of diseases and disorders share common risk factors of low intakes of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, excess calorie intake, body fat, and high animal fat intake. These risk factors are associated with the development of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, conditions that are strongly related to the development of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other chronic diseases that include stroke, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of at least three of five conditions: hypertension, high blood sugar, obesity, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. These diseases are all related to our diets and other lifestyle factors – namely exercise and smoking habits.
A new study in the journal Diabetes Care is the first to look at the impact of metabolic syndrome on outcomes for Covid-19 patients. “Together, obesity, diabetes and prediabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels are all predictors of higher incidences of death in these patients and were more than three times more likely to die from the disease.
“The more of these diagnoses that you have, the worse the outcomes”, says lead author Joshua Denson , assistant professor of medicine and pulmonary and critical care medicine physician at Tulane University of Medicine.
“The underlying inflammation that is seen with metabolic syndrome may be the driver that is leading to these more severe cases.” Dr. Denson adds. In this study, the most common conditions were hypertension (80%), obesity (65%), diabetes (54%), and low HDL (39%.)
Dr. Denson would advise anyone who meets the criteria for metabolic syndrome to be vigilant in taking measures to reduce risk or exposure to the coronavirus. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, we took that into account” he says.
Consumers tend to believe that dietary supplements:
Have fewer side effects than prescription drugs.
Are approved by the FDA.
Will improve and maintain health.
Are safe, high quality, and effective.
May replace conventional medicines.
DIETARY SUPPLEMENT REALITIES
FDA does not approve, test, or regulate the manufacture or sale of dietary supplements.
The FDA has limited power to keep potentially harmful diet supplements off the market.
Dietary supplements may not have been tested for safety or effectiveness before they are sold.
Dietary supplements often do not list side effects, warnings, or drug or food interactions on product labels.
Ingredients listed on supplement labels may not include all active ingredients.
Dietary supplements may not relieve problems or promote health and performance as advertised.
One of the most serious consequences of supplements results when they are used as a remedy for health problems that can be treated, but not by vitamins or minerals. Vitamin and mineral supplements have NOT been found as yet to prevent or treat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, premature death, behavioral problems, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cataracts or stress. Some such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene may be harmful to certain groups of people. If taken, dosages should not be excessive.
Judith Brown, Nutrition Now, 2013.
The recent pandemic brings with it its schemes, misinformation, and claims for combating the virus. The supermarket tabloid covers feature various foods to eat to avoid viral infections. Always consult with your doctor about these claims. And thanks to Quackwatch, you can find a very comprehensive guide about COVID-19 claims HERE.
The leading causes of death among Americans are slow developing, lifestyle-related chronic diseases. This includes diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, hypertension or high cholesterol levels. Diet can often be (but not always) the underlying condition reflected as obesity. Obesity is now considered to be a major risk factor for complications of COVID-19 infections.
A previous post explains the role of diet in this occurrence. The post was written before the co-morbidities (underlying conditions) were associated with inflammation and severe COVID infections. The following well written article was initially published in The Conversationand succinctly explains how the role of inflammation can contribute to severe COVID and death often described as the “cytokine storm”.
Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.
In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to five regions of longevity hot spots in the world that included:
Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia- a rate similar to that for older Americans.”
Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.
Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity. Mr. Buettner later published The Blue Zones Solution and coauthored with Ed Diener, The Blue Zones of Happiness.
One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products are either the exception or used as a condiment. Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full
In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan de vida or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.
The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”
Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says
Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week
Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her
The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”
The final chapters in the first book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity. Buettner provides credible information available for “adding years to your life and life to your years.”
However, there is a downside that is currently happening. From the Author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”
The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas such as the U.S.
From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other misfortunes) it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.”
David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
The importance of lifestyle enters into the debate about the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. Many reports of viral deaths are attributed loosely to underlying conditions exemplified by the presence of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes/prediabetes, and obesity which is surmised to increase the mortality risks of the virus. These are the leading causes of death in the U.S. and are collectively referred to as chronic diseases.
“Poor diet, a lifestyle factor among others, is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, causing more than half a million deaths per year. Just 10 dietary factors are estimated to cause nearly 1,000 deaths every day from heart disease, stroke and diabetes alone. These conditions are dizzyingly expensive. Cardiovascular disease costs $351 billion annually in health care spending and lost productivity, while diabetes costs $327 billion annually. The total economic cost of obesity is estimated at $1.72 trillion per year, or 9.3 percent of gross domestic product.” NYT.
The pandemic is making us depressed and anxious – can healthy food provide relief?
To the average person, it may seem eminently reasonable to assume that food affects our brains along with the rest of our bodies. But only within the past decade or so have researchers begun to establish the crucial link between diet and the mind.
The U.K. Mental Health Foundation reports that food plays an important role not only in depression but in schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease as well.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits. Comfort food was made for times like these, and it seems the healthy food trend that took root in recent years is reversing, at least for the time being. Shopping habits have shifted in favor of old processed favorites like frozen pizza, toaster waffles and canned spaghetti. These are convenience foods with long shelf lives that are designed to deliver pleasure. The typical American diet is often loaded with processed foods, pizza, fast food, white flour and sugary sodas.
Money is tight in many households, and busy parents are putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table instead of home cooking and using whole food. Open a box and there is dinner. Besides, convenience foods are engineered by the food industry to taste good and make us feel good at least in the short term.
But wait – there’s more. That’s because a growing body of research is showing that our food choices don’t just affect our waistlines. What we eat also may affect our mood and behavior. In other words, there may be something in the food we’re eating (or not eating) that’s influencing our state of mind.
The emerging field of nutritional psychology contends that modern western diets have contributed to increased rates of mental illness, particularly depression. Diets that follow a Mediterranean pattern of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish and olive oil, have been linked to lower rates of depression. A diet change of just a few weeks has been found to lift moods. In a 2010 study, women who ate diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains were less likely to suffer from depression.
As a third of all Americans are reporting that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health, we might now need nutritious foods more than ever. One way to start is to simply cut down on “junk” foods and look for simple ways to prepare whole nutritious foods.