Can changing your diet influence cancer?

Research shows that lifestyle directly affects cancer cell growth and development.

Inherited factors influence cancer development but even these can be reduced by how we eat, exercise and manage emotions. And if you are living with cancer, what you eat can make a real difference to how you feel, so you can live well with cancer, particularly by influencing the health of your immune system. As recorded by ‘Penny Brohn, Living Well With Cancer’, 2015, “Disease recurrence and progression, symptoms and treatment side effects, plus the risk of related illnesses and overall quality of life are all affected by how we live our lives and nutrition plays a large role in this.”

By enlisting the power of food to change the chemistry of the body we can help to manage treatment side effects. So by combining conventional medicines with small and gradual lifestyle changes, huge health benefits can be gained.

Aim for a rainbow palette of colour for fruit and vegetables, include good quality protein at each meal of the size of the palm of your hand, include low glycaemic load whole grain carbohydrates daily and a daily intake of good quality Omega 3 oils. Incorporate healthy foods into smoothies and soups as well as conventional cooking.

Persistent inflammation creates an environment that favours tumour development and so foods that minimise inflammation should be part of your diet. Oily fish (salmon, sardines, herrings, trout, mackerel), pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds are all good sources of omega 3 oils all help to reduce inflammation.

Reduce all sugars, because these increase inflammation, cause weight gain and encourage cancer cell growth.

Vitamin D also aids inflammation reduction and while most vitamin D is generated from sunlight, some can be obtained from oily fish, shellfish, egg yolks, mushrooms and butter. A good vitamin D supplement is well worth taking during the winter months in the UK.

Cancer cells use angiogenesis (the creation of new blood vessels) to supply the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow. Angiogenesis occurs naturally in the body, however in cancers the rate of angiogenesis is abnormally rapid. Research has shown that some foods help to reduce angiogenesis and these foods include; onions, garlic, shallots, cruciferous veg. (brussels, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli), citrus fruit, spices, herbs and green tea. Adding these foods to the daily diet provides a regular anti-angiogenic benefit to help reduce cancer proliferation.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, brussels, cabbage, cauliflower, kale etc. and it helps reduce cancer cell division by locking away an enzyme called elastase that influences cancer progression.

Folates are found in leafy green vegetables and used by the body to form healthy cell DNA.  Lots of greens in your diet can help the body resist the proliferation of cancer cells.

Obesity influences insulin resistance which is when the body no longer manages high levels of blood glucose, causing insulin to rise. Insulin can act as a growth factor for cells and especially those in the colon and when cells grow out of control they can become cancerous.

Stress and stressors increase the production of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are formed as part of the body’s processes, but when there is an excess these can cause damage to cells and this accumulates over time. Free radicals scavenge from cells of the body and cause damage, which can influence cancer development.

So, have lots of antioxidant nutrients in the diet in the form of vegetables and fruits, particularly those of deep rich colours and fresh nuts and seeds to mop up the free radicals. Vitamin C and E, zinc and selenium rich foods are also important for their antioxidant value.

Foods listed as high in ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) are great in the diet daily see USDA tables for more information

Variety and food enjoyment is very important to ensure a good range of nutrients are eaten and the diet is pleasurable. Don’t feel it’s essential to eat food just because it is listed as good for you, but enjoy and be guided by your taste.

Always remember 'the healthiest diet is one that delivers pleasure as well as balanced nutrients' (Penny Brohn Cancer Care UK 2015). So do take time to sit, eat and savour food to aid digestion and get all the goodness you can from the food you are eating.

Other Information sources:, World Cancer Research Fund  Report; Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Prevention of Cancer; a Global Perspective. Continued updates, 2015. and ‘Nourish’, The Cancer Care Cookbook, Penny Brohn Cancer Care with Christine Bailey.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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