Cancers have become one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and according to the World Health Organisation the number of new cases of cancer are expected to rise by 70% over the next two decades. By conservative medical estimates, around one third of cancers are thought to be preventable through basic dietary and lifestyle modification: cessation of smoking and drinking alcohol, increased exercise, increasing the dietary intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, and reduced body mass. I would certainly add to that list the following general recommendations:
- Decreasing your intake of refined sugars, processed foods, and grains
- Avoiding consumption of toxic chemicals by choosing organic produce & filtered water
- Using natural cleaning products & beauty products that are chemical free
- Avoiding the use of plastics in all areas of your life
- Practicing a form of stress reduction such as meditation or yoga
I also recommend using some key supplements that are excellent are reducing the likelihood of developing cancer – these are not necessarily to be consumed every day, however either using a course of them several times a year or taking a dose occasionally is in my opinion a wise strategy in the face of the statistics mentioned above.
Without further ado, here are my top 3 supplements for cancer prevention:
1. Curcumin / Turmeric
To circumvent any confusion upfront, curcumin is the term commonly applied to the active constituents of the spice turmeric. I will use the term curcumin here instead of turmeric, as although turmeric in its whole food form does contain some curcumin it does not contain enough (with enough bioavailability) to address anti-cancer activity.
Curcumin has incredible anti-cancer properties, and actually has the most evidence-based literature supporting its use against cancer of any nutrient. One study showed the ability of curcumin to prevent progression of pre-cancerous lesions to a cancerous state. Another study showed effectiveness of curcumin in the treatment of pancreatic cancer (an extremely agressive form with a generally poor prognosis). Yet another study showed the ability of curcumin to trigger apoptosis in human glioblastoma cells. And this study showed the ability of curcumin to slow the disease progress of those with multiple myeloma.
Clearly this is an amazing nutrient with powerful anti-cancer activity, however it is important to ensure you are taking the correct form to maximise its effectiveness. I recently wrote a post on how to choose the right curcumin supplement, and I highly recommend you read it here to familiarise yourself with this often confusing topic.
I recommend using turmeric liberally in cooking (as even though the gastrointestinal absorption will be poor, there will still be significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity locally in the stomach and bowel). Supplemental curcumin as recommended in the article above should be taken on a frequent basis – a dose every few days would be sufficient. Obviously is you are fighting inflammation or any specific disease process the dose may need to be much higher.
2. Green tea
The key cancer fighting phytochemicals in green tea are a mouthful – Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, Epigallocatechin, and Epicatechin-3-gallate. These belong to a class of polyphenols called catechins, and have powerful antioxidant activity. In laboratory and animal studies, these polyphenols have shown the ability to inhibit cancer cell development by a variety of means:
- The induction of apoptosis (cell death)
- The inhibition and angiogenesis (blood vessel growth to cancer cells)
- Immune system modulation
- Increased production of innate detoxification and antioxidant mechanisms such as glutathione-s-transferase
As a preventative agent, green tea is best consumed in its natural state – as a refreshing beverage taken a few times a day. It’s important to prepare green tea correctly to maximise its benefits: water should not be boiled, rather it should be heated to 80 degrees celcius. A workaround is to fill your cup with 1/4 cool water then add the boiled water to this, then add the tea itself. Any form of green tea will be beneficial, but I recommend choosing organic as the tea plant has shown a remarkable ability to absorb toxins from its environment.
Supplemental green tea is also available, and it may be beneficial to take in this form during times of increased stress or exposure to environmental toxins. It is also highly recommended if you become sunburnt as green tea has shown the ability to protect the skin from damage associated with UVB radiation. Look for a supplement that is standardised to contain measured levels of the catechin polyphenols mentioned above.
3. Grape seed extract
The skins and seeds of grapes are an excellent source of phytochemicals called proanthocyanidins, powerful antioxidants that can greatly reduce the action of damaging free radicals in the cells of the body. The great benefit in this is in reducing damage to cellular DNA, which is thought to be a major driver of a normal cell becoming ‘rogue’ and progressing to a cancer.
There have been numerous studies done to validate the effectiveness of grape seed extract in preventing and treating cancer, and the consensus is overwhelmingly positive in its effectiveness. This study showed the effectiveness of GSE in the treatment and prevention of colorectal carcinoma. This study showed significant benefit in decreasing and preventing prostate tumor growth. Another study showed powerful initiation of cell cycle arrest in human colon carcinoma cells.
Unfortunately the availability of grape seed extract (and another powerful antioxidant called maritime pine bark extract) is becoming more and more limited due to a coordinated mass buy-up from pharmaceutical companies. If you can source a grape seed extract supplement, be sure that the proanthocyanidin (often listed as procyanidins or OPC’s) content is standardised (specifically listed as a measured quantity on the label). 150mg of these proanthocyanidins per tablet/capsule would be the minimum dosage I would look for – 200 to 300mg would be ideal. Taking a quality grapeseed extract tablet or capsule once or twice a week would be a sensible measure in reducing the likelihood of cancer formation.
I hope this helps you fight the ever growing epidemic of cancer, and demonstrates to you the true power of a preventative rather than a reactive approach to disease.