The internet is filled with information. We are in the age of easy access to everything, information being one of them, but with that comes the problem of too much, misleading or contradictory information. Cancer is no exception. There is so much information out there that sometimes it may seem hard to find those simple answers you have been looking for.
We have written extensively on how to eat healthy and on the healthiest foods for you considering different health conditions. These are only a few of the many posts you can read or re-read on our website to learn more about healthy foods:
- How to Eat Healthy
- Heart Healthy Foods
- Best Foods for Gut Health
- Top foods to Fight Chronic Inflammation
So, we have been writing a lot about food and we have been writing a lot about cancer. What about just food and cancer? What are the best foods to help you prevent and heal cancer?
This is a very simplified list of our Top 5 Anti-Cancer Foods, with some of the major benefits associated, main bioactive components and mechanisms of action “against” cancer! But read through, because at the end you will get a Bonus List of Superfoods for Cancer!
Top 5 Anti-Cancer Foods
- Green tea
- Made from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis.
- Helps your immune system and is especially powerful against cancer.
- Rich in flavonoids, powerful antioxidants, and shows immunomodulatory properties.
- The catechins are the major polyphenolic compounds in green tea, which include epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate and epicatechin, gallocatechins and gallocatechin gallate1.
- Beneficial properties of green tea are mainly attributed to these catechins, and EGCG appears to be the most potent of all.
- EGCG has been shown to inhibit tumor invasion and suppress tumor-feeding blood vessel growth (angiogenesis), promote cancer cell apoptosis (cellular death), and destroy cancer stem cells, which are essential for tumor growth and metastasis2 (metastasis remains the principal cause of cancer deaths).
- Green tea is the richest source of polyphenolic compounds, catechin, gallocatechin and EGCG of any food.
- Green tea catechins may inhibit the growth of a wide variety of cancers, from gastrointestinal to lung, bladder, skin, breast, cervical, and prostate cancers1.
- Green tea also contains caffeine. Caffeine has been found to be protective against cancers of the skin, lung, and other organs (per cup green tea contains roughly 25% as much caffeine as coffee).
- Curcuma longa plant.
- Anti-inflammatory agent, immune booster, antiviral, and protective against cancer.
- Curcumin is the main curcuminoid and bioactive component of turmeric.
- Curcumin is a phytochemical with many therapeutic properties, including antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-mutagenic, anti-amyloidogenic and anti-inflammatory.
- Curcumin anticancer effects target many pathways, among them inflammation (cancer stems from chronic inflammation), angiogenesis (suppresses the formation of new blood vessels), invasion, growth/proliferation (inhibits cancer cell proliferation), cytotoxicity (directly kills cancer cells), apoptosis (programmed cell death), oncogenic metabolism/metabolic reprogramming (changes the metabolism of cancer cells), lactogenesis (excess lactate production), pH balance (acid/base balance), alterations in the tumor microenvironment (changes in the environment surrounding tumors), cell survival (increases survival of healthy cells), tumor escape, metastasis (reduces incidence of metastasis), cancer stem cells (kills cancer stem cells) and immunomodulation (modulation of the immune system), among others3.
- Curcumin selectively targets cancer stem cells while having little to no toxicity for normal stem cells; normal stem cells are essential for tissue regeneration and longevity.
We have a full article on the Benefits of Curcumin for Healing on our blog for more information.
- Allium is the Latin word for garlic.
- The Allium genus includes approximately 500 species, including edible onions (A. cepa), garlics (A. sativum), shallots (A. ascalonicum), chives (A. schoenoprasum), and leeks (A. porrum)4.
- Contain a variety of bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, oligosaccharides, arginine, and selenium; however, much of Allium’s health benefits comes from the sulfur-containing organic compounds4.
- At least 16 species of the genus Allium have proved potential anticancer properties. These properties are attributed to the phytochemicals present in these plants, namely organosulfur compounds like quercetin, flavonoids, S-allyl mercaptocysteine, and ajoene5.
- Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the cancer-preventive effects of Allium vegetables and related organosulfur compounds. These include hindering cell cycle, inhibiting signaling pathways, inducing apoptosis, inhibiting mutagenesis, modulating enzyme activity, inhibiting DNA adduct formation, free-radical scavenging and antioxidant activity, and effects on cell proliferation and tumor growth. All of these mechanisms interfere with different stages of formation, growth, differentiation, and metastasis of cancer cells5,6,7.
- Furthermore, many of these organosulfur compounds are powerful antioxidants, like quercetin, contributing to improvement in immune function and treating many chronic illnesses.
- Quercetin is known for its antioxidant activity and radical scavenging and anti-allergic properties characterized by stimulation of immune system, antiviral activity, inhibition of histamine release, decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, leukotrienes creation, and suppression of interleukin IL-4 production.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, and chives contain other flavonoids that promote the production of glutathione, considered the body’s “master antioxidant.” Furthermore, flavonoids may inhibit cancer cell proliferation and angiogenesis as well as killing off cancer stem cells.
- Studies show an inverse association between onion and garlic intake and risk of cancers, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract and of the lung, prostate and breast4.
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Brassica family – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.
- High content of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, and Vitamin C.
- Many cruciferous vegetables are also rich in glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant”, known for the high free-radical-scavenging abilities.
- Many health benefits of cruciferous vegetables have been linked to phytochemicals; they prevent oxidative stress, induce detoxification enzymes, stimulate the immune system, decrease the risk of cancers, inhibit malignant transformation and carcinogenic mutations, as well as reduce proliferation of cancer cells.
- Most cruciferous vegetables are nutrient-dense sources of glucosinolates, which are metabolized to isothiocyanate compounds, linked to cancer prevention8.
- Some, like cabbage and broccoli, also contain sulforaphanes and indoles — two types of strong antioxidants and stimulators of detoxifying enzymes that protect the structure of DNA.
- Within the isothiocyanate compounds, sulforaphane is one of the main bioactive compounds and has surfaced as a particularly potent anticancer agent based on its ability to target multiple mechanisms within the cell to control carcinogenesis8.
- Some of the most important mechanisms by which sulforaphane exerts its cancer preventive properties are the anti-inflammatory action, the promotion of cancer cell apoptosis, reduction on estrogen receptors expression (important for several types of breast cancer) and histone modulation, and also the effect on cancer stem cells8.
- Sulforaphane also acts as a “signaling” molecule and once inside the cell switches on more than 200 specific genes that may be dormant due to toxicity, poor health, and aging factors; these genes produce special detoxification and antioxidant enzymes.
- Diets rich in Brassica vegetables have been associated with a lower incidence in a wide variety of cancer types, including breast, lung, prostate, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer9.
- A paper reported that “sulforaphane possesses the capacity to intervene in multistage carcinogenesis through the modulation and/or regulation of important cellular mechanisms” and “is selectively toxic to malignant cells” and that “sulforaphane mediates a number of anticancer pathways, including the activation of apoptosis, induction of cell cycle arrest, and inhibition of NFκB9.”
- Broccoli, besides sulforaphane, also contains the flavonol quercetin, also present in the Allium vegetables, and essential in the elimination of cancer stem cells.
- Fungi and medicinal mushrooms are considered to have more than 130 medicinal functions10.
- Including, antioxidant, radical scavenging, anti-diabetic, hypocholesterolemic, anti-tumor, anti-cancer, immunomodulating, anti-allergic, nephroprotective, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective, and other properties 10,11.
- The anti-cancer compounds play a crucial role as a reactive oxygen species inducer, mitotic kinase inhibitor, anti-mitotic, angiogenesis inhibitor, topoisomerase inhibitor, leading to apoptosis, and eventually checking cancer proliferation11.
- Anti-Cancer properties: reducing free radicals, preventing cell proliferation, inhibiting angiogenesis, and stimulating apoptosis11.
- Cell walls are made of complex polysaccharides, including beta-glucans. Beta-glucans have been shown to modulate immune function; increase host immune defense by activating complement system, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function 10,12.
- Beta-glucans also show anticarcinogenic activity and can prevent oncogenesis due to the protective effect against potent genotoxic carcinogens. “As immunostimulating agent, which acts through the activation of macrophages and NK cell cytotoxicity, beta-glucan can inhibit tumor growth in promotion stage”, and through suppression of angiogenesis (growth of tumor blood vessels), reduce tumor growth and proliferation and prevent tumor metastasis12.
- Mushrooms also contain specialized lectins that recognize cancer cells and prevent cancer cell growth and division.
- Some mushrooms act similarly to the breast cancer drugs called aromatase inhibitors, which block the body’s estrogen production.
- A recent systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the association between mushroom intake and risk of cancer concluded that a higher mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer13.
- Another study concluded that higher dietary intake of mushrooms decreased breast cancer risk. Women who consumed at least a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms daily were 64% less likely to develop breast tumors. And when combining mushrooms with green tea, the tumor risk was reduced by 89%14!
- There is a diversity of edible mushrooms, like shiitake, cordyceps, crimini, white button, oyster, portabella, reishi, chaga, maitake, turkey tail, lion’s mane, many of them containing bioactive compounds potentially protective against cancer. More specifically reishi, cordyceps and maitake may help improve immune function, reduce tumor growth and contribute to cell regeneration.
Now, in addition to our Top 5 Anti-Cancer Foods, we also provide a short list of the healthiest foods to add to your shopping list and later to your plate! ENJOY 😊
Healthiest foods to add to your “anti-cancer grocery list”
- Dark leafy greens
- Black pepper
- Nuts and seeds
- Colored vegetables and fruits
- Sprouts and microgreens
- Olives and olive oil
- Fermented foods
- Spices and dried herbs
- Fresh herbs
- Lemon and lime
- Khan N, Mukhtar H. Tea Polyphenols in Promotion of Human Health. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 25;11(1):39. doi: 10.3390/nu11010039. PMID: 30585192; PMCID: PMC6356332.
- Khan N, Mukhtar H. Cancer and metastasis: prevention and treatment by green tea. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2010 Sep;29(3):435-45. doi: 10.1007/s10555-010-9236-1. PMID: 20714789; PMCID: PMC3142888.
- An Oasis of Healing. Health Articles. Curcumin for Cancer. Published Jun 07, 2021. https://www.anoasisofhealing.com/curcumin-for-cancer/, accessed April 8, 2022.
- Nicastro HL, Ross SA, Milner JA. Garlic a nd onions: their cancer prevention properties. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2015 Mar;8(3):181-9. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0172. Epub 2015 Jan 13. PMID: 25586902; PMCID: PMC4366009.
- Asemani Y, Zamani N, Bayat M, Amirghofran Z. Allium vegetables for possible future of cancer treatment. Phytother Res. 2019 Dec;33(12):3019-3039. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6490. Epub 2019 Aug 29. PMID: 31464060.
- Sengupta A, Ghosh S, Bhattacharjee S. Allium vegetables in cancer prevention: an overview. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2004 Jul-Sep;5(3):237-45. PMID: 15373701.
- Bianchini F, Vainio H. Allium vegetables and organosulfur compounds: do they help prevent cancer? Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Sep;109(9):893-902. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109893. PMID: 11673117; PMCID: PMC1240438.
- Bayat Mokhtari R, Baluch N, Homayouni TS, Morgatskaya E, Kumar S, Kazemi P, Yeger H. The role of Sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention and health benefits: a mini-review. J Cell Commun Signal. 2018 Mar;12(1):91-101. doi: 10.1007/s12079-017-0401-y. Epub 2017 Jul 23. Erratum in: J Cell Commun Signal. 2017 Aug 26;: PMID: 28735362; PMCID: PMC5842175.
- Tortorella SM, Royce SG, Licciardi PV, Karagiannis TC. Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2015 Jun 1;22(16):1382-424. doi: 10.1089/ars.2014.6097. Epub 2014 Dec 19. PMID: 25364882; PMCID: PMC4432495.
- Wasser SP. Medicinal Mushrooms in Human Clinical Studies. Part I. Anticancer, Oncoimmunological, and Immunomodulatory Activities: A Review. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2017;19(4):279-317. doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v19.i4.10. PMID: 28605319.
- Patel S, Goyal A. Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review. 3 Biotech. 2012 Mar;2(1):1-15. doi: 10.1007/s13205-011-0036-2. Epub 2011 Nov 25. PMID: 22582152; PMCID: PMC3339609.
- Akramiene D, Kondrotas A, Didziapetriene J, Kevelaitis E. Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606. PMID: 17895634.
- Djibril M Ba, Paddy Ssentongo, Robert B Beelman, Joshua Muscat, Xiang Gao, John P Richie, Jr, Higher Mushroom Consumption Is Associated with Lower Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue 5, September 2021, Pages 1691–1704, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab015
- Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, Holman CD. Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer. 2009 Mar 15;124(6):1404-8. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24047. PMID: 19048616.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.