Experts weigh in on what to eat and what to avoid to reduce the cancer risk.
While the statistics surrounding breast cancer – one in 12 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime and more than 1.7million are diagnosed globally each year – are shocking enough to make most of us lose our appetites, there is a huge underlying problem increasing the risk of developing the disease: an unhealthy diet.
Recent research published in the respected medical journal Cancer suggests that in a large number of cases, sufferers have one thing in common– a die thigh in saturated fat and sodium and not enough fibre.
In the US-based study conducted over 10years, researchers analysed the diets of 1,533 people who had been treated for cancer. They compared the quality of what they ate to the diets of more than 3,000 randomly selected people who had never been diagnosed with the disease.
Experts were surprised to note that the cancer survivors ate less fibre and more saturated fat and foods high in sugar and sodium. Their vitamin Din take was lower– just 31 percent of the recommended amount –along with vitamin E, which was just 47 per cent ofwhat’s recommended.
‘Dietary changes that include more fibre, fruit and vegetables and less fat, sodium and added sugar would be important for cancer survivors,’ concluded Fang Fang Zhang, assistant professor at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and lead author of the study.
So while surgery, chemo and radiotherapy can drastically increase survival rates once cancer is detected, it is better to prevent the disease from occurring than cure it. One of the places where this can happen is in the kitchen.
‘Improving your diet and lifestyle can help reduce risk of cancers including breast cancer,’ says Victoria Tipper, nutrition coach at Dubai Herbal & Treatment Centre. Tipper quotes figures from the World Health Organisation, which determined that dietary factors account for at least 30per cent of cancer cases in the West and 20per cent in developing countries.
Likewise, Cancer Research UK says wemay prevent nine per cent of cancer cases, including breast cancers, just by changing diets, while five per cent of all cancers could be avoided by maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
Victoria gives the example of ‘Japanese women, whohave a lower risk of developing breast cancer than Americanwomen’. Experts believe it’s because their diet contains a lot of fish, which has antiinflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and fibre that helps cleanse the system.
‘But as soon as Japanese women leave their country and move to the West, where their diet and lifestyle changes, their risk of developing the disease increases,’ she adds .‘ Indulging in a high-fat, highcalorie diet common in the US, for example, increased Japanese women’ s risk to cancer. This shows that our environment and lifestyle play a vital role; it is not only related to our genes.’
A substantial body of evidence supports the theory that cancer is linked to increased chronic inflammation in the body, caused by an unbalanced immune system.
‘Wear every lazy and RELUCTANT to make changes unless something BREAKS down. But it could take 10 or 15 year sofa bad DIET before WARNING signs such as diseases start FLASHING’
Several studies conducted in the West have concluded that such inflammation can predispose individuals to cancer.
So it is important to follow an antiinflammatory diet, says Victoria .‘ Certain foods increase or reduce inflammation in the body. Forexample, foods higher in omega-6f atty acids – sugar, trans fats and processed foods – are pro-inflammatory, but those higher in omega-3 – fish, nuts – are anti-inflammatory.’
‘High blood sugar promotes chronic inflammation in the body sowe need tomake better food choices, opting for carbohydrates that will not cause blood sugar levels to rise. It is also wise to totally avoid processed vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, canola, soybean, safflower and cottonseed oils, which are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Breast cancer is linked to chronic inflammation.’
Avoiding processed foods and substituting bad carbohydrates such as white bread, instant white rice, and processed breakfast cereals with healthier options such as brown rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, sweet potato and pumpkin is recommended. You should also boost your diet with omega-3rich foods, including fish, milled flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts, adds Victoria. She also suggests stepping up your intake of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin D.
‘Studies including those by the University of California San Diego’ s School of Medicine have shown that being deficient in vitamin D can increase the risk of premenopausal breast cancer.’
While scientists are yet to confirm why, Victoria says the bestway to boost vitamin D levels is to judiciously expose your skin to the sun. ‘Not everyone is able to expose their skin to the sun as many women in this region dress modestly and are veiled. This iswhere supplements are advised, but before you reach for the pills you must do a blood test to check your vitamin D levels .’
Dubai-based Caroline Bienert, nutrition and detox specialist and author of Detox
Body Book, also emphasises the role diet plays in cancer development, as well as its cure .‘ I’m a big fan of prevention ,’ she says, ‘but in real life, I have very few clients who come to me before they have cancer.
‘We are very lazy and reluctant tomake changes unless something breaks down. But it could take 10 or 15 years of a bad diet before warning signs such as diseases start flashing. If you’re eating bad foods at least three times a day over your whole lifetime, howcan that not affect your system? You don’t have to be an expert to realise that. The body is an amazing machine but there is only somuch abuse it can take before it reacts with cancer or a disease, which is quite like saying “hey, please take care”.’
Isit as easy to change your diet overnight to try to prevent cancer? ‘It might not be easy but you will be ensuring that your immune system will be stronger for the future,’ says Caroline. ‘But remember, the old stuff fromthe past is stuck in your system, therefore you have to do very special professional detoxification programmes to clear it up so that you can start afresh.’
Caroline uses homeopathic, ayurvedic, herbal and traditional Chinese medicines in her approach to cleansing. ‘A detox is essentially like hitting are set button on your body and is very important.’
Once the body has been cleansed, it’s time to keep it thatway through a permanent change in diet. (See page 56 for foods to eat and foods to avoid).
And it’s never too early to start. ‘Taking conscious steps to ensure the body is healthy is a worthwhile for cancer and other chronic diseases,’ Victoria says.
Cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment so creating an alkaline environment in the body can thwart their development. Oneway to do this is by boosting vegetable and fruit intake as they are alkalising. Vegetables are also a great source of antioxidants, which can help prevent the development of many cancers. The antioxidant sulforaphane, found in high doses in broccoli, is a particularly potent detoxifier. Try to make sure that at least half your plate is full of vegetables and include green juices daily. Infact, vegetarian diets are in line with the American Cancer Society nutrition guidelines for the prevention of cancer.
Grass-fed animals, as opposed to grain-fed, have a much better fatty acid profile, being higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and great to build up the body’s immune system, which can help fight cancer, including that of the breast. Pasture-fed animals also have higher levels of saturated fat called conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
Both ginger and turmeric have scientifically proven anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown in mice studies to enable apoptosis of breast cancer cells by causing themto self-destruct. Combining turmeric with black pepper and a healthy fat such as olive oil helps absorption in the body.
Increase your intake of omega-3-rich foods such as all fish, especially oily ones such as wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, milled flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil have been shown to help breast cancer treatment– a recent study demonstrated that flaxseed oil enhances the effectiveness of certain medications such as Trastuzumab.
People should try togo organic to reduce toxins and further burden on the liver.
Increasing the intake of fish to three times a week will increase omega-3 polyunsaturated fat intake, according to a report by Johns Hopkins University on breast cancer. It goes onto say that these fatty acids may inhibit the growth of breast tum ours.
Soy has been found to contain many phytochemicals– plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties – some of which have been proven in animal tests to protect against hormone-dependent cancers. Other compounds in soy have antioxidant properties andmay have anticancer effects. According towww.cancer.org, soy foods may help Tam ox if en–used in the treatment of cancer – work better.
However, overconsumption of processed soy and soy products (milks, yogurt, tofu, etc.) can disrupt the endocrine systemand so should be avoided.
Sugar and sweetened drinks increase the calories in your diet causing undesirable weight gain. This can affect cancer outcomes by affecting immune system function, factors that regulate cell growth and hormone levels, according towww.cancer.org. Along with sweets and cakes, foods that cause blood sugar levels to rise include white bread, white rice and processed breakfast cereals.
Processed vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, canola, soybean, safflower and cotton seed oils are rich in omega -6 fatty acids, whichmakes thempro-inflammatory. They should be avoided as breast cancer is linked to chronic inflammation.
Following a diet that’s heavy on fruits and vegetables and low on processed foods may prevent breast cancer
Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that promote good health