Our diets can both feed or starve cancer cells productivity by affecting multiple mechanisms which promote cancer. Cancer cells rely on the ability to multiply, repair, differentiate and evade apoptosis (programmed cell death). The recent discovery of cancer stem cells has scientists looking at a whole new approach to preventing and treating cancer.
Cancer stem cells have a pro-survival strategy involved in promoting cancer cell invasion, growth and metastasis.
These cancer stem cells are unlike typical stem cells because they are designed to promote cancerous activities including: the ability to self-renew; resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs; self-sufficient; not influenced by anti-growth signals or by contact with other stem cells; not regulated by normal cell functions including apoptosis; promote inflammation; regulated by tissue invasion and metastasis; sustained by angiogenesis and flawed cellular energy.
Fortunately, cancer stem cells are affected by phytochemicals or the nutrients in our diets. These nutrients are designed to prevent and treat the pro-survival cancerous properties which equip a cancer stem cell to function.
Cancer Stem Cell Killing Nutrients
The following nutrients are phytochemicals found in our diets which manipulate the communication pathways between cancer stem cells and the corresponding cancer cell.
Ursolic Acid (UA) is a dietary compound found in the waxy coating of fruits such as apples, bilberries, cranberries and prunes, as well as in elder flower, peppermint, lavender, oregano, rosemary and thyme.
Some researchers have found that ursolic acid can reduce enzymes that promote inflammation in the body and contribute to abnormal cell cycles, reduce the expression of genes which turn off cellular apoptosis in cancer stem cells thereby triggering “cell suicide” to occur in cancerous cells, as well as inhibit DNA replication from occurring responsible for the progression of tumour growth and metastasis. Ursolic acid has been shown in studies to also reduce tumour size and concentration.
Tips for Increasing Ursolic Acid in Your Diet
- Use fresh herbs in your cooking and salads
- Eat fruit containing this compound with skin on (after washing them)
- Make smoothies with these fruits and herbs
Piperine, known as the “King of Spices” is an alkaloid found in black pepper which has anecdotally been used to treat common ailments such as colds, fever and most recently has been studied for its anticancer properties.
Piperine is similar to capsaicin a chemical in chili and offers many health benefits. Curcumin which is a polyphenol plays the same role in turmeric. One problem with curcumin is its low levels of bioavailability. Most of the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolised before it can get absorbed. Piperine is said to help make curcumin more bioavailable.
Piperine inhibits H. pylori from adhering to a surface within the gastrointestinal tract and therefore prevents this bacterium from releasing toxins which cause stress, inflammation and promote carcinoma cells.
Tips for Increasing Piperine in Your Diet
- Use freshly ground pepper when cooking instead of white pepper
- Add freshly ground pepper to salads and soups
- Use black pepper together with turmeric or instead of chilli powder
- Add a teaspoon of black pepper to fruit juices
Lycopene is a bioactive compound which has been shown to destroy cancer cell activity; it gives fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, watermelons, pink grapefruit and red oranges their red fleshed pigmentation.
Lycopene is one of the free radical-fighting antioxidants. Free radicals are damaging molecules that float around in the body disrupting cells and promoting disease.
Lycopene ‘s anticancer properties stem from its ability to cause cytotoxic and pro-apoptotic effects in cancer cells – lycopene can disrupt cancer stem cell’s communication pathways which enable a cancer cell to live and cause it to die.
The best sources of lycopene are tomatoes and tomato products; when preparing a homemade sauce, increase the availability of lycopene to be absorbed into your body by cooking down tomatoes with their skins on to optimise their nutrient content.
Tips for Increasing Lycopene in Your Diet
- Mix sun-dried tomatoes into bread dough or add them to a veggie sandwich.
- For an easy, lycopene-rich meal, go with the old standby—pasta with marinara sauce.
- Add canned tomatoes or salsa to a bean burrito.
- For a refreshing start to your day, enjoy a pink grapefruit.
- Reach for tomato juice to quench your thirst.
- Top a veggie burger with ketchup or salsa.
- Make a quick bruschetta by toasting baguette slices and lightly brushing with olive oil. Top with canned, diced tomatoes and a sprinkling of basil.
Isothiocyanates (pronounced eys-so-thigh-o-sigh-an-ate) can be found in cruciferous or “cabbage family” vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabaga, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, horseradish, radish, and watercress.
Carcinogens are the bad guys of the cancer battle. They are the chemicals that cause the disease. Isothiocyanates stop them dead in their tracks in three different ways:
- They don’t allow carcinogens to be activated;
- They counteract the poisonous effects of carcinogens that have been activated; and
- They speed up their removal from the body.
Tips for Increasing Isothiocyanates in Your Diet
- Add broccoli, cauliflower, or any other of the other cruciferous vegetables to stir-fries, soups, stews, and sauces.
- Munch on raw broccoli or cauliflower for a snack.
- Boost your salad’s cancer-fighting potential by adding watercress, kale, cabbage, or collard greens.
- Use rutabagas or turnips in place of potatoes in your favourite potato dish.
- For a portable meal, include cruciferous vegetables in a veggie wrap.
Curcumin is an extract found in the spice turmeric and possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer abilities. Curcumin prevents chronic inflammation from occurring which is repeatedly evident in the development of cancer.
By interacting with the signalling pathways of cancer stem cells, curcumin is noted in regulating the various factors involved in cancer stem cells.
Curcumin has the ability to:
- Control inflammation
- Prevent tumour invasion
- Hinder cancer cell growth
- Turn off factors which suppress apoptosis
- Prevent angiogenesis and inhibit metastasis.
Tips for Increasing Curcumin in Your Diet
- Sprinkle Black Pepper: Turmeric is poorly absorbed in the body and has minimal impact on blood levels when taken alone, but when black pepper is added, the bioavailability of turmeric is vastly improved.
- Add Some Fat: Turmeric is fat-soluble and thus much more easily absorbed when taken with fat, such as coconut or almond milk. Add a pinch or two to your next smoothie.
- Heat It Up: Heat is said to increase the solubility of curcumin (the primary active constituent in turmeric) by 12 times, which may also increase its bioavailability in the body.
- Brew Turmeric Tea: Just bring 1 cup of water to a boil and then stir in ¼ teaspoon of ground turmeric or fresh grated turmeric. Allow it to simmer for 10 minutes and strain before drinking. You can stir in honey or fresh lemon juice for added flavour.
- Make Homemade Mustard: Mix up a basic mustard with ½ cup ground mustard, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon water, 1 teaspoon each of turmeric and salt. Store in a glass jar in the fridge.
EGCG works by interrupting the signalling pathways associated with cancer stem cells. Consequently, this nutrient prevents cancer cell proliferation, inflammation and metastasis. Studies show that EGCG inhibits vital proteins required for cancer cell survival and shuts off the mechanisms which trigger their growth.
Green tea is an abundant source of a polyphenol called epigallaocatechin-3-gallate, better known as EGCG. The antioxidant potential of EGCG has been linked to a variety of health benefits with anti-cancer properties.
Also very high in EGCG content is carob flour, a cocoa-like substance derived from the ground pods of the carob plant, or Ceratonia siliqua. Carob flour is used in the production of caffeine-free chocolate-like confections and other cocoa-type products.
Some nuts and fruits contain measurable amounts of EGCG. Although their EGCG content is relatively small, these foods contain a wide array of other nutrients that make them attractive from a nutritional standpoint. Included in this group are pecans, filberts or hazelnuts, raw cranberries, and pistachios.
Tips for Increasing EGCG in Your Diet
- Drink green tea regularly
- Make smoothies with green tea and green veggies
- Eat nuts regularly
- Include cranberries in your diet; with breakfast, as a snack, or in a smoothie
- Bake with carob flour instead of white flour
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring phytochemical and antioxidant, found in grape skins and red wine, which shows a dramatic tendency to decrease risk of many types of cancer. Other sources of resveratrol include berries, and peanuts.
Resveratrol is also good for your eyes; helps increase blood flow to the brain; can help improve your skeletal muscles, particularly in terms of endurance; and can improve endurance and cardiac function as well as increase oxidative metabolism.
Studies show that resveratrol may:
- Slow tumour growth in the lungs by preventing the replication of DNA
- Prevent tumours from forming both in the lungs and the colon by destroying potential carcinogens
- Prevent liver cancer because of its antioxidant activity
- Prevent breast cancer by protecting cells from the harmful effects of linoleic acid, a type of fatty acid implicated in breast cancer
- Arrest the growth of leukaemia cells
Tips for Increasing Resveratrol in Your Diet
- Snack on red and purple grapes
- Eat purple berries such as blueberries
- Make smoothies containing red or purple berries
- Eat peanuts or pistachio nuts regularly
- Eat organic peanut butter regularly
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants and may help boost the immune system, maintain health and prevent disease. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, purple, and blue plants their rich colouring.
The main sources of anthocyanins are berries, such as blackberries, grapes, blueberries etc., and some vegetables, such as egg-plants (aubergine), asparagus, and avocado. Other sources include oranges, elderberry, olives, red onion, black beans, fig, sweet potato, mango and purple corn.
Anthocyanins exhibit anticancer potential by supporting gene function which in turn inhibits the tumour growth pathway in cancer stem cells.
Anthocyanins boost the productivity of genes which suppress tumours, induce apoptosis in colon cancer cells and create dysfunction in leukaemia cells.
Tips for Increasing Anthocyanins in Your Diet
- Drink fresh blueberry, orange or mango juice
- Make smoothies containing blackberries, grapes, blueberries, mango etc.
- Top your bowl of cereal with a cup of your favourite berries
- Have lots of purple grapes and purple grape juice
- Include the very healthy eggplant/aubergine in your diet
- Make a nutritious black bean stew