Diet and Disease: Cancer

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Cancer is what happens when a part of your body grows in an uncontrollable way and damages healthy parts. In other words, cancer results when one group of cells grows and multiplies in a disorderly and uncontrolled way. There are many myths as to what causes cancer and what doesn’t. The three most common sources of cancer are cigarettes, sunlight and a high-fat diet. Some people believe that cancer develops from many things including everything from cell phones, to computer screens to brand name shampoos. But in many cases, the cause of cancer is and will remain a mystery.

The effects on the body…

Tumors – Cancer develops into primary tumors, invading into adjacent and distant parts of the body. A tumor is any unusual growth of extra cells in or on the body surface. Some tumors are also called growth or malignant or cancerous. It is not common for all doctors to suspect all tumors to be cancerous.

Weight Loss – Cancer makes you loose weight by making you loose your appetite. If cancer is in or near the digestive tract, it may also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and digest food.

Production of Hormones – Different types of cancers may produce their own variations of the body’s hormones and release into the bloodstream. These substances may interfere with several of the body’s functions – regulation of the body’s calcium, for example, or the amount of urine produced, or the balance of the body’s own steroid hormones.

Food and Cancer…

The growth of a malignant tumor is a long and slow process that includes three main steps: the initiation of cancerous changes in a cell’s DNA, the promotion of uncontrolled growth of a damaged cell and the progression of a cancerous lesion that can invade other tissues. Evidence suggests the certain nutrients found in particular foods can interfere with each of these steps.

Step 1: Initiation – Many population studies have linked a high intake of plant foods to a low risk of cancer. The compounds contained in these foods can work in very specific ways to block the development of tumors. When oxygen is processed it produces toxic agents called free radicals, which damages a cell’s DNA. The intake of antioxidants found in foods such as green tea (polyphenols), tomatoes (lycopene) and any other fruits and vegetables help neutralize free radicals. Other good antioxidants are vitamins C, E and beta-carotene.

Eating foods that carry the lycopene antioxidant may help ward off cancers of the breast, lung and digestive tract. When cancer-causing chemicals enter the body they aren’t capable of damaging cellular DNA until they are broken down by phase I enzymes produced in the liver. Chemicals called allyl sulfides, which are found in garlic, chives and onions, help limit the production of phase I enzymes. In addition to phase I enzymes, the liver also produces phase II enzymes to rid of the dangerous residue phase I’s leave behind. Broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables will help boost the production of phase II enzymes.

Step 2: Promotion – If a cell ends up undergoing potentially cancerous changes, the body’s best defense is to destroy it or, keep it from dividing rapidly. Dietary fat plays an important role in the promotion of cancer. It all depends on the type of fat you consume, not just the amount. Surprisingly, saturated fat, the same fat that wreaks havoc on the heart and blood vessels, doesn’t seem to affect cancer risk one way or another, as with monounsaturated fat. But two particular forms of polyunsaturated fat – omega-6 and omega-3 – are another story. Omega-6s are found in corn and safflower oil and they seem to promote tumor growth. Omega-3s, found in flaxseed and fish oil, may help inhibit it.

Step 3: Progression – If all other defenses fail and a damaged cell generates a tumor, the question is will it invade surrounding tissues and build it’s own blood supply. Angiogenesis is when tumor cells release growth factors that promote the development of new blood vessels. Cox-2 inhibitors, found in red grapes, soy, rosemary and carrots, may suppress the tumor’s production of growth factors.

Anyone can get cancer at any age; however, about 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people aged 55 and older. Cancer is one of the main causes of death among humans. Half of all men and one-third of all women will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Today millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s lifestyle, for example, by quitting smoking and eating a better diet. The sooner caner is found and treatment begins, the better are the chance for living for many years.

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