Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D.

Your Genetic Destiny

9 Cancer-Fighting Foods and Beverages

Learn how diet can reduce your cancer risk

Posted Jul 27, 2015

CDC/Mary Anne Fenley/James Gathany
Source: CDC/Mary Anne Fenley/James Gathany

Based on the American Cancer Society, data show that approximately 1,658,370 people will be newly diagnosed with cancer and 589,430 individuals will lose their fight against cancer this year. Cancer is the second cause of death in the U.S. and is on the fast track toward becoming the leading cause of death by 2030 — surpassing heart disease.

Although some therapies help to squelch certain cancers, other cancers appear to be intractable due to multidrug resistance. To beat cancer, we have to prevent it.

The fact is that heritable cancers compose 5 to 10 percent of all cancer cases. So what about the remaining 90 to 95 percent? Those cancer cases are due to environmental and lifestyle factors like pollutants, smoking, diet, stress, and physical inactivity.

Healthy cells don’t become cancerous cells overnight. In fact, many of us are walking around with cancer and don’t even know it. Based on autopsy studies of 20-somethings who have died in war or automobile accidents, evidence of cancer has been detected. If cancer is found in the body, then why doesn’t it present sooner than later.

Well, our immune system does a fantastic job at keeping cancer as well as other disease-causing cells from destroying our health. Unfortunately, as we get older, the accumulation of damage done by environmental toxins, stress, poor diet, and other lifestyle factors exhaust the immune system and render it unable to do its job effectively.

Also, cancer cells have surface markers that help them avoid immune detection. By going unnoticed, cancer cells lie dormant for years as they wait for an opportunity (e.g., weakened immune system) to flourish in the body. Once cancer is diagnosed and the tumor surgically removed, treatments like chemotherapy and radiation are used.

Cancer stem cells differ from normal cells in that they replicate at a faster rate and don’t undergo apoptosis (normal programmed cell death). Cancer cells also form abnormal blood vessels that supply it with nutrients to promote its growth and allow it to spread (metastasize) to other organs.

While anticancer therapies are employed after one develops cancer, nutrition can help to stave off cancer. Here are some dietary choices that have been shown to prevent cancer:

•    Artichokes contain compounds (e.g., quercetin, cynarin) that cause cancer cells to undergo cell death.

•    Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are powerful anticancer vegetables that belong to the cruciferous family. They contain a substance called glucosinolates that increase detoxifying enzyme production, turn on apoptosis in cancer cells, and block metastasis. In addition to broccoli and broccoli sprouts, there are many other crucifers that contain myriad cancer-busting compounds: bok choy, watercress, cabbage, arugula, radishes, and kale.

•    Turmeric is a spice that gets its yellow color from a compound called curcumin.  Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound that selectively inhibits cancer progression in various ways.

•    Reishi mushroom bolsters the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells because it exposes cancer cells by removing their specialized cell surface markers that make them invisible to immune cells.

•    Black raspberries are packed with cancer-destroying nutrients that work by activating over 200 tumor suppressor genes that trigger cell death.

•    Fatty fish like salmon contain omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) that are essential fats that increase the body’s production of detoxifying enzymes to fight cancer. Another form of omega-3 called ALA can be found in nuts and seeds.

•    Teas contain antioxidant compounds called catechins. In particular, green tea contains a powerful catechin called EGCG that is known to inhibit cancer at the level of DNA. Studies have also shown that polyphenols (an antioxidant substance) in green, black, white, and red teas activate apoptosis in prostate cancer.

•    Red wine contains a substance called resveratrol, which is commonly known for its heart-healthy benefits. In studies, resveratrol has been shown to increase proteins that promote cell death and inhibit the formation of aberrant blood vessels in prostate cancer. As with any alcoholic beverage, however, moderation is key, for women it's one drink and for men it’s two.

•    Eggs contain vitamin D and are one of its few dietary sources (e.g., salmon, fortified milk). Vitamin D boosts natural killer cells that are immune cells involved in cancer cell death. A non-dietary way to increase vitamin D is through sun exposure. Once sunlight touches our skin a cascade of reactions occur to produce vitamin D. But for people living in cities like New York during the winter months, this can be difficult. And too much sun exposure in the warmer months poses skin cancer concerns. So visit your primary care provider and ask to have your vitamin D levels checked. If your levels are low, you may need to take vitamin D supplements.

Diet plays a critical role in cancer prevention. In addition to the foods and beverages included here, be sure to drink plenty of water, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, cook with herbs and spices, and snack on protein- and fiber-rich nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seed, and sunflower seeds. By following a healthy diet, the body is able to maintain a powerful immune system and optimal health.


"Cancer Facts & Figures 2015." Cancer Facts and Statistics 2015. Accessed July 22, 2015.

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