Nature’s Cancer Fighters
Vitamin pills and supplements are no substitute for eating our vegetables. Scientists are now finding out why. It just so happens that fruits and vegetables are loaded with compounds called phytochemicals and antioxidants that demonstrably lower the risk of cancer.
Phytochemicals are not related to vitamins or minerals. They are not even nutrients. Phyto is Latin for plant. These are natural chemicals only found in plants. These food chemicals cannot be obtained from animal products. What makes these substances so exciting is that study after study continues to reveal the many cancer-protective benefits of the different phytochemicals.
You can lower your risk of cancer quite a bit by eating more fruits and vegetables. More than 200 major studies over the past 25 years have consistently shown that high plant food eaters are about half as likely to have cancer as those who eat few plant foods. This is also true for heart disease, adult diabetes, and certain other lifestyle diseases.
Phytochemicals protect against cancer usually as a blocking agent or suppressing agents. Blocking agents work on the carcinogens. They prevent them from affecting the body’s cells. For example:
– Indoles found in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) work as blocking agents by increasing colon enzymes that can deactivate some of these carcinogens.
– Others block the ability of bacteria to attach themselves to the surface of the cell.
Suppressing agents work on the body’s own cells, combating malignant changes that have been started by free radicals or carcinogens. They can slow tumor growth by suppressing the cancer cells ability to reproduce. They can suppress certain enzymes that cancer cells need in order to grow.
Some fruits and vegetables contain more potent cancer fighters than others.
1. For colon cancers, it is the cruciferous vegetables.
2. A high fruit and carrot intake appears to decreases the risk of lung cancers significantly.
3. Eating one or more onions a day were found to have only half the stomach cancer risk of those who never ate onions.
4. Soy is an absolute treasure of cancer-protective phytochemicals. Studies suggest that soy foods diminish cancer risk in many areas, including breast, colon, rectum, lung, and stomach.
The good news about phytochemicals is that you do not have to eat the foods raw to get the benefits. While a few of these compounds might lose some effectiveness when cooked, most still hold their medicinal properties. It also does not matter whether the vegetables are canned, frozen, juiced, or peeled. Pickling, boiling, microwaving, baking, and drying, are also ok.
The National Cancer Institute advocates a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Some people do not eat any at all.
Like phytochemicals, antioxidants are also natural chemicals found in food, but they are not limited to plant foods. The term antioxidant refers to a specific function they perform – they help the body dispose of free radicals that can genetically damage normal cells and set the stage for cancer.
“What are free radicals you ask?”
Every cell in our body is made up of molecules. Usually every molecule has electrons in range around its nucleus. These electrons usually come in pairs. This makes the molecule stable. However, some molecules have electrons that are not in pairs, leaving them extremely unstable. These molecules are called free radicals.
Free radicals have been found to have a role in at least 50 diseases. They have been known to damage DNA and are linked to cancer. It is important to strengthen our body’s antioxidant defenses with nature’s natural cancer fighters.