Foods For Preventing Cancer

by in Cancer, Holistic Nutrition Tips, Kitchen Sink, Preventative Medicine, Whole Foods Diet May 1, 2008

fiveflower.jpgRecently a reader asked the question “what are the best herbs I can use to prevent cancer?”

I decided that was a fabulous question for my colleague and naturopathic expert on Cancer Dr. Jake Psenka!

Since many herbs are foods, and since foods are the best preventative medicines as we can more easily incorporate them in to our daily diet, Dr. Psenka has conveniently put together a great article for us on the best foods and herbs we should use liberally in our diet to prevent cancer:

“The Top Five Botancicals for Preventing Cancer”

It is well known by many doctors that the majority of cancers are preventable. Most cancers occur as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Smoking, poor diet, a lack of exercise, toxin exposure, and high stress are all known to contribute to the development of cancer. Published estimates suggest that around 85% of cancers are caused by these poor lifestyle choices. The good news is that it is possible to drastically cut the risk of developing cancer by becoming familiar with the best ways to promote health.

Incorporating lifestyle changes into disease prevention program used to be considered “alternative” medicine, but now even conventional medicine is supporting the use of healthy diets, exercise, and lowering stress levels. In fact, the American Cancer Society publishes specific lifestyle recommendations every five years in an attempt to educate both consumers and physicians. This information is available for free through the ACS website,

The American Cancer Society recommendations suggest that people try to consume a mostly plant-based diet with minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. What the ACS doesn’t say is how large a serving is, nor what types of fruits and vegetables are the best to focus on. First off, it’s important to point out that a serving is typically only a half cup, so five servings really only add up to about two and a half cups. Also, it is important to know which foods offer the highest degree of disease protection, so that these foods can be incorporated into the diet. Some of the best plant foods for preventing cancer include dark skinned berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, tomatoes, pomegranates, turmeric, and green tea.

The dark skinned berries have high levels of the substance known as ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is found is in many types of fruits including strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, and pomegranates, and especially in red raspberries. Ellagic acid has been found to have substantial anti-cancer properties, as well as strong anti-oxidant capabilities.

This natural substance promotes it’s anti-cancer effects through a couple of different mechanisms. Ellagic acid has been found to stop the growth of many types of cancer cells, including cervical, prostate, breast, colon, pancreatic, esophageal, and skin cancer lines. Ellagic acid stops cancer growth by interfering with a particular part of the cancer cell’s reproductive cycle. When these cells can no longer reproduce, they eventually die without making any new cells.

In some studies this effect was seen within 48 hours of taking ellagic acid. Other studies have shown that ellagic acid has the ability to prevent the effects of toxins known to cause cancer. The ellagic acid prevents toxins from binding to DNA, so that cancerous growth cannot be genetically promoted. Lastly, eating foods which contain ellagic acid may be more beneficial than taking supplements containing ellagic acid.

Lycopene is another substance that is found in plants which has shown substantial anti-cancer action. Lycopenes are a class of substances known as bioflavinoids, which are closely related to carotenes. In fact, as a class of substances lycopenes are the major type of carotene found in human blood and serum.

Lycopene is found mainly in red vegetables and fruits. Tomatoes, especially sun dried ones, provide the greatest amount of lycopene, although foods like watermelons, red grapefruits, apricots, and guava also contain high levels of lycopene. Several studies have shown that diets high in lycopene containing foods are inversely related to prostate cancer risk. So, the more lycopene rich foods a man eats, the lower his chances of developing prostate cancer. The protective effects of lycopenes extend beyond prostate cancer to other types of types of cancer as well. Most of lycopene’s anti-cancer effect is thought to due to its exceptional anti-oxidant capacity.

Third on the list of foods that prevent cancer is the Indian herb turmeric. Turmeric is mostly known as the spice that adds a yellow color to many Indian foods. Over the past five years turmeric, and especially the turmeric derivative curcumin, has shown outstanding cancer preventing properties. Curcumin has shown great potential in preventing many types of cancers, including breast, cervical, colon, gastric, hepatic, leukemia, oral epithelial, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate. In addition to being a fantastic food for cancer prevention, curcumin has also been shown to be very beneficial for people who are actively fighting cancer as well.

Although this turmeric extract has more than one known mechanism of action, most of it’s impressive activity is due to it being an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. As an potent anti-inflammatory, it has been suggested that curcumin may also be beneficial in treating diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis, pancreatitis, psoriasis, and arthritis. The best part is that it tastes good too!

Next on the list is pomegranates. Pomegranates, or Punica granatum, are an excellent source of dietary antioxidants which have shown great promise as chemoprevention agents. The term chemoprevention is a relatively new one that is used to describe substances which have cancer preventative actions. Due to being full of potent anti-oxidant substances, pomegranates have been recognized as having preventative properties against several cancers such as head and neck cancers, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Pomegranates have also been shown to have properties which inhibit cancer cells from reproducing quickly (anti-proliferative action). Newer research indicates that pomegranates also can help prevent cancer by acting to enhance the removal cancer causing toxins from the body.

The last food on the list really isn’t a food at all, but a beverage. The drink is green tea, and the plant from which it comes is known as Cameilla sinensis. Green tea, like curcumin, has a multitude of research supporting it’s use in both cancer prevention and cancer therapy. Green tea’s amazing anti-cancer properties are mainly due to it’s high content of polyphenols such as EGCG. EGCG, otherwise known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, is a remarkable substance which has anti-oxidant properties, helps the body to remove toxins, assists in regulating cancer cell growth, inhibits tumors from growing new blood vessels via a process known as angiogenesis, inhibits cancer promoting inflammation, AND has demonstrated the ability to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells alone. Green tea is truly a great cancer fighter.

To get the most benefit out of drinking green tea a person should try to drink 4-5 cups per day. Some people feel that many store bought green teas have a “grassy” flavor that is hard to overcome. Buying a higher quality bulk tea or “gun powder” green tea from your local Chinese or Japanese grocer usually results in a better tasting tea. Green tea also makes wonderful iced tea too. Just mix in a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice with a little stevia and enjoy.

By choosing a diet that is rich in foods with proven cancer fighting abilities it’s possible to decrease the chance of developing cancer. By combining a healthy diet with other positive lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, toxin avoidance, and using stress reduction techniques, a person can decrease their chance of not only developing cancer, but many other serious disease as well. These foods- berries, tomatoes, turmeric, pomegranates, and green tea- should also be considered by people who are actively fighting cancer as well.

Additionally, many of the substances mentioned, such as curcumin and EGCG, can also be taken in supplement form when there is a need for increased dosages. Remember to discuss taking new supplements with your doctor before you actually begin taking them.

Live well,

Jonathan (Jake) Psenka, ND

You are welcome to leave questions for Dr. Psenka in the comments, suggest ideas for future articles, and visit Dr. Psenka at his website

  1. Thank you Dr. Psenka! What a wonderful article. I think we can all easily add many of these foods in to our diets, if we aren’t already. I like to get my berries in with a smoothie every day. When I first tried the “real green tea” that you are discussing in this article I found it absolutely repulsive. But then I reminded myself that I didn’t like the taste of coffee either the first time I drank it. Now, I think green tea especially iced is the best way to go.

    I think I will make up a pitcher right now. Sometimes I add a spash of pomegranate or blueberry juice to make it more palatable for my friends that are not as hard core as me.

    Turmeric is such a wonderful “end all be all fix all cure all herb”, I just can’t speak highly enough about it. I hope more Americans will be inspired to add more curry to their diet now that they know what an invaluable food it is.

  2. I have actually been aware of many of these cancer fighting foods and have been trying to incorporate them into my diet. This article is extremely informative and it is honestly not that difficult to follow the wonderful advice given. Thank you so much for sharing such pertinent information!

    Like I said in a comment on my blog, I would love to find the top foods to eat to help fight depression, anxiety, stress, and self esteem issues. May have to write an article about that!

    Dr. KC

  3. Don’t think I don’t know what’s happening here. You have taken a peek at all the foods I don’t eat and put them on that list!

    I think it’s time to make some MORE changes to my diet!

    This kind of education is priceless and I think it’s disgraceful that the Government dont put more money into illness prevention through education. Oh wait, I forgot there are huge pharmaceutical and food manufacturing companies to pander to and keep wealthy beyond (normal) avarice.

    Aint a free market economy great? 😉

  4. Hi Doc KC! You are ahead of the game! I actually have an article on the diet to fight depression which is a great place to start, you can check it out under my diets page. I recommend the Low glycemic Index diet for those with anxiety as balanced blood sugar = balanced brains and HAPPY nervous systems. Thanks for the suggestion though. I will write an article on the specific super foods to keep us calm though!! Everyone needs them in their diet.

  5. Hi Tim- I hope you know that I have been laughing from the moment I moderated your comment until now…and am still laughing. Yes this diet is clearly a conspiracy, we are watching you, and know that you are NOT eating your blueberries, tomatoes, green tea and curry!!

    Thank you, we are working hard here to turn complicated information in to something fun, simple and easy for all to comprehend and incorporate in to their diets.

  6. Hello DocKC, Tim, and Dr. Nicole!

    I’m glad that you found the article helpful! It’s such great information that I wish everyone knew how big an impact diet could have on cancer prevention.

    And Tim, you’re right- our food supply is in serious trouble. I read a statistic which said that if you pick up a food in the market there is a 75% chance that it was made from genetically modified crops. Bummer.

    I think it’s high time to bring back the victory gardens!

  7. Great advice! My kids LOVE organic blueberries (thank goodness they like something beneficial). Super article as always!

  8. wow this article is full of information regarding prevention in cancer very nice and thank so much for this post I have really learned a so much
    I will try to eat walnut (^_^)

  9. […] Top Five Foods For Preventing CancerIncorporating lifestyle changes into disease prevention program used to be considered “alternative” medicine, but now even conventional medicine is supporting the use of healthy diets, exercise, and lowering stress levels. …Kitchen Table Medicine – […]

  10. […] Top Five Foods For Preventing CancerIncorporating lifestyle changes into disease prevention program used to be considered “alternative” medicine, but now even conventional medicine is supporting the use of healthy diets, exercise, and lowering stress levels. …Kitchen Table Medicine – […]

  11. I just have to say I love this post!!!!! It was so informative and such easy to follow stuff! Thanks Dr. Nicole for introducing us to Dr. Psenka!

    Tim, I thought that was my husband writing that comment until I saw your name there. 🙂 It is such a challenge getting him to eat his vegies and he hates curry (which I could eat every day). Thankfully he does love fruit and green tea and even likes dried cranberries. He will eath some vegies, just in very small amounts.

    I have always heard that brocolli is a huge cancer preventitive. Is that true? I’ve also recently heard that cinnamon is too – I think I heard that. Could you please talk about these.

  12. Fantastic! Thank you for posting this.

  13. Hi Jennifer-

    It’s true, broccoli is full of things which can help to prevent cancer. Two of the most well-studied plant chemicals found in broccoli- and other cruciferous vegetables are diindolymethane and sulforaphane. Diindolymethane, or DIM, has the ability to interact with certain tumor cell membrane receptors which lowers those cell’s metastatic and invasive potential. DIM may also be protective against female hormone-related cancers by altering estrogen ratios. Sulforaphane is able to stimulate the liver’s detoxifying capacity, inhibit cancer cell growth, and even promote a type of programmed cell death called apoptosis in some cancer cell lines.

    In addition to broccoli, cabbage, kale, collard greens, and brussels sprouts are other cruciferous vegetables which pack a strong cancer-prevention punch.

    Bon Appetite,

    Jake Psenka, ND

  14. What a wonderful resource this blog is. I’m so delighted to have found it. Now I can be mindful of the Top Five Botanicals

    Last year I discovered a list identifying cancer protectors (Source: Environmental Nutrition/vol.22/no.10)
    1. Fruits and Vegetables, especially those dark in color, aim for 5-9 servings/day
    2. Fiber, especially for colon cancer, aim for 25-35 grams per day
    3. Antioxidants, such as carotenes and vitamins C & E (get carotenes through your diet, not a pill )
    4. Selenium, especially for prostate cancer, do not take more than 800 mcg/day as a supplement
    5. Calcium, aim for 1200-1500 mg per day
    6. Omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil), try to include fish in your diet at least 1 to 2 times per week
    7. Soy, aim for 1 to 2 servings of soy products per day
    8. Tea (black or green), aim for 3 to 5 servings per day
    9. Exercise, aim for 30 minutes most days of the week

  15. I saw this mentioned in Prevention magazine as well, especially tomatoes. They did a whole article on recipes for maximizing the cancer-preventing nutrients like lycopene.

  16. […] I really appreciated the article on “Foods for Preventing Cancer”, and have been trying to stay out of the sun to prevent skin cancer. The problem is that I am a […]

  17. […] Because of the beautiful orange and yellow pigments, squash is a rich source of beta carotene and other important carotenoids that prevent cancer. […]

  18. Very helpful article.

    Do you have any recommendations specifically for the prevention of a recurrence of melanoma? As Doc Nicole knows from reading my posts on blogcatalog, I’ve just finished a year of inteferon for stage III-B melanoma, following two surgeries. My scans are clear. The oncologists say I just have to wait and see if it comes back. I’d rather be a bit more proactive.

    Appreciate your help.

    – Lulu

    Lulubelle B’s last blog post..The Fifteen Most Fabulous Herbal Sedatives

  19. If you have a family history of breast cancer, or are actively undergoing treatment in the wake of a recent diagnosis, there are a variety of natural botanicals, vitamins, and minerals that can have a strong positive impact when it comes to both prevention and recovery.

    Based on the latest scientific research, many different nutrients show promise in this area of breast cancer prevention and recovery. Combining these nutrients in the proper amounts allows the cancer to be attacked from all sides, therefore inhibiting the cancer growth while simultaneously promoting overall health. There are quite a few supplements that I use for this purpose in my practice – most notably modified citrus pectin, which is a clinically proven natural adjuvant therapy for a wide variety of cancers. For daily support, I also recommend an integrative breast formula, which provides targeted nutritional support for women struggling with breast health concerns and breast cancer.

    Other supplements include medicinal mushrooms, specific vitamins and antioxidants, and nutrients that act as hormone modulators, anti-inflammatory agents, and immune enhancers.
    .-= dreliaz´s last blog ..Research Updates- October 2010 =-.

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