A cancer diet – that is consuming foods with the proven potential to fight the disease – is a relatively new concept. On the other hand, the anti-cancer diet has been around for quite some time. Ever since the idea of health foods entered the mainstream American diet in the 1970s, a major part of the motivation for this idea has been eating foods that may help prevent major diseases like cancer.
But now scientists are finding out that certain foods contain substances that may help kill cancer cells after the disease has all ready taken hold. These foods cannot take the place of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. But with the approval of one’s oncologist, it may be possible to also consume foods that have been shown through scientific research to have cancer-fighting potential.
Cancer Diet Properties Reported For Hot Peppers
Some cancer diet foods may seem unusual. They may not be foods everyone would choose to consume if they were not reported to have the ability to help fight cancer. Take hot chili peppers for example. New research on the habanero pepper shows that it has cancer-fighting properties. Scientists are now trying to understand how the compound that makes peppers hot may be able to kill cancer cells.
Cancer diet foods in fact may contain compounds that have been known to also kill bacteria that cause other types of diseases. Food anthropologists have long theorized that there is a reason many cultures in warm climates developed cuisines with spicy foods. Think about places like Mexico, India and Thailand. In the days before refrigeration, foods could quickly spoil in hot climates. Somehow people discovered over time that the addition of certain spicy ingredients prevented foods from going bad and making people sick. It is plausible that these same germ-fighting properties in these ingredients could also offer cancer-fighting properties.
Scientists Zero In On Cancer Diet Compound
The current cancer diet news is that chili peppers such as habaneros and jalapenos contain a chemical, capsaicin, which may be a key cancer-fighting compound.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras report in a new study published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, that the capsaicin binds to the surface of cancer cells and breaks down the membrane that surrounds and protects the cancer cells.
By analyzing how capsaicin interacts with cell membranes, they hope to find better ways of systemically delivering it to break down and destroy cancer cells. The present study was done in the laboratory with isolated cancer cells. Further studies would need to be done in laboratory animals and then in human volunteers to verify the findings.
“The study showed that capsaicin lodges in the membranes near the surface,” the researchers said. “Add enough of it, and the capsaicin essentially causes the membranes to come apart. With additional research, this insight could help lead to novel tools against cancer or other conditions.”
Cancer Diet Evidence Points To Capsaicin
Capsaicin has been found in previous studies to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In 2006, a study found that capsaicin can cause prostate cancer cells in mice to die while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Researchers in China recently reported that eating spicy foods several times per week may lower the risk of death by about 14 percent, and specifically lower the risk of dying from cancer, heart and respiratory diseases. They suggested that the cancer diet effect may be due to the presence of capsaicin.
For their study, they reviewed health and nutrition data for 487,375 people between the ages of 30 and 79 collected from 2004 to 2008 as part of a health data base project in China. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that eating spicy foods once or twice per week lowered the risk of death by about 10 percent, and eating it nearly every day lowered the risk of death by about 14 percent.
An editorial published with the study points out that the Chinese diet relies heavily on spices such as capsaicin-containing chili peppers. But the researchers said further study was needed to confirm that the observed favorable results are the direct result of the spice intake.
Cancer Diet May Include Garlic, Tumeric and Curry
Research is now under way looking at whether turmeric can stop cancer growth. Other spices also being studied for possible anti-cancer effects include cumin and curry. But studies in humans looking at the long-term effects of spices on cancer still need to be done before any definitive conclusions can be made.
Garlic also is now under study to see if it can reduce cancer risk. Several studies suggest that it may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer but its benefit for other cancers remains to be explored. Garlic and other foods in the onion family could be included in a cancer diet along with other vegetables.
Cancer Diet Calls For Food, Not Pills
Do I really need to eat a cancer diet, you may wonder. Couldn’t I get the nutritional equivalent of vegetables and fruits in a pill? Not according to the American Cancer Society. They maintain that a cancer diet means food, not pills. Many healthful compounds are found in vegetables and fruits, and these compounds may work together like instruments in an orchestra to produce their beneficial effects. There are also possibly other important compounds in whole foods that may not have been discovered yet so they would not be included in supplements.
Some supplements claim to provide the nutritional equivalent of vegetables and fruits. But the small amount of dried powder in them may contain only a small fraction of the levels of nutrients contained in whole foods. A cancer diet approved by a physician remains the best source at this time for possible cancer-fighting compounds found in foods. J. Phys. Chem. B, 2015, 119 (36), pp 12086–12093
Publication Date (Web): August 24, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society