by Ore Fakorede
To re-phrase a popular quote, the fear of cancer is the beginning of good health practices, and there’s good reason to be afraid – statistics show that in 2007, cancers caused about 13% (7.9 million) of all human deaths in the world. Inhale, exhale. For the purpose of clarity, it should be noted that cancer isn’t just one but a whole class of diseases in which groups of cells grow abnormally in the human body, encroaching upon and damaging neighbouring tissue. This abnormal, uncontrolled growth is primarily caused by environmental factors (sometimes induced by certain genetic dispositions). External influences such as tobacco, infections, diet and obesity, radiation, pollutants and lack of aerobics have been connected with predisposition to cancer.
Although most cancers can be treated, the harrowing treatment regimes offered by chemotherapy and radiotherapy have made prevention a much more favourable option. Since the environmental factors which predispose humans to cancer can be controlled, and knowing that the overall risk of cancer increases with age, it’s never too early to start beefing up the immune system. The ’Preventing Cancer Naturally’ series takes an in-depth look at the best natural cancer-prevention methods that ANYONE can employ.
PREVENTION THROUGH DIETARY CHANGES
The Poisons Called Fatty Foods
Dietary fat contributes to the development of cancers in two proven ways. First, eating fat stimulates the production of production of bile, which when allowed to stagnate in the large intestine over a long period of time, is converted into carcinogenic (cancer-causing) apcholic acid. Second, cancerous tumour cells require low density lipoprotein ( protein carrying fats and oils in the bloodstream) to grow.
Consequently, it is vital that you limit your fat intake to about 55 grams per day. Educate yourself- read food labels and nutrition information when available. Reduce the consumption of oils high in saturated fats, such as palm, palm kernel, coconut, and cottonseed oils, to the barest minimum. Hydrogenated fats (those that have been chemically changed from unsaturated to saturated fats), are potentially carcinogenic. Just so you know what you’re up against, nearly all packaged foods (including the bags of harmless-looking, addictive potato chips) contain hydrogenated fats, since these allow a longer shelf life.
Not all fats/oils are bad though, and some even have cancer-preventing qualities. Here’s a list of the good ones:
a) Unsaturated fats, found in plant foods such as legumes.
b) Vegetable oils that are high in monounsaturated fats e.g. Olive oil.
#QuickFacts: Greek women, who tend to eat a diet rich in olive oil, have a very low incidence of breast cancer. A study done in 1998 showed that men who eat less animal fat and more vegetable fat in their diets are less prone to prostate cancer.
c) Oils found in seafood such as salmon and tuna, that are high in omega 3 fatty acids.
#QuickFacts: Inuit women, who have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, have a lower incidence of breast cancer. It is thought that omega-3 fatty acids may block the effect of oestrogen on breast cells, thus lowering the risk of them becoming cancerous.
d) Oils that contain more omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids e.g. Flaxseed, pumpkin seed, canola, soybean (not hydrogenated), walnut, sunflower, sesame, and virgin olive oils.
#QuickFacts: Heating vegetable oils at high temperatures can change fatty acids and make them carcinogenic. Peanut oil and extra virgin olive oil stand up best to cooking, but do not heat them to boiling point.
What’s All The Hype About Fruits And Vegetables?
Several studies examining the connection between nutrition and cancer have reached the consensus that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables daily helps prevent ALL types of cancers. Why is that? First, eating more fruits and vegetables decreases the appetite for fatty foods, which themselves increase the risk of cancer. Second, fruits and vegetables contain neutralizing agents which prevent carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) from reaching critical target sites within the body cells. Third and not at all the least, fruits contain antioxidants which repair damaged cells (more on this later in the series).
The top cancer-preventing vegetables are known as cruciferous vegetables. They are: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, kale, and cauliflower. Although it is impossible to grow most of these vegetables in Nigeria‘s tropical climate, some are available as canned goods in supermarkets and select stores nationwide. Not as great as when farm-fresh, but good enough. Cruciferous vegetables contain substances which: boost immunity, block enzymes that draw carcinogens into healthy cells, prevent the formation of carcinogens in the intestines and lessen the risk of breast cancer. While they may not pack a punch like their cruciferous brethren, green leafy spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, garlic and kidney beans also have anti-cancer properties and are much more commonly found in Nigeria.
#QuickFacts: Researchers estimate that eating lots of cruciferous vegetables could lower the risk of breast and colon cancer by as much as 40 percent.
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: ‘Red meat versus seafood?‘, ‘The amazing powers of soy milk and calcium‘, ‘Is alcohol really a carcinogen?’ and more health tips to help guarantee a cancer-free future.