Can a plant-based diet prevent cancer?
Cancer! Can it be prevented? Is there a cure? This is probably the most widely asked question for which the answer is still lost amidst the vastness of medical science. But with the growing fascination for healthy food, the researchers found that plant-based foods can help to prevent, and to a certain extent, can cure few forms of cancer, if diagnosed at an early stage.
What is cancer?
In order to find out the treatment, prevention, and cure of cancer, it is very essential that we understand the cause of cancer at the cellular level. Cancer can be termed as a disease of altered gene expression. We all know that a cell is the unit of life. The human body is made up of billions of cells. These cells have a nucleus containing the genes, and different types of proteins that help the cells to function normally.
There are two important mechanisms in the cell:
1. Cell death : Due to the genes, every cell is destined to die, after a certain period. This death is pre-programmed. Therefore, the number of cells in an organism may remain more or less same.
2. Cell repair : The cells have an inbuilt mechanism to repair any wear and tear, and any chemical imbalances. The daily exposure to various environmental toxins, metabolic byproducts, and microorganisms, may lead to cell damage, including damage to the genes. These damages are repaired in healthy cells, and no complications happen.
Cancer happens when any of these two mechanisms are not in order. These two mechanisms in the cell may become dysfunction due to many reasons including:
- Unhealthy food habits which lack essential nutrients
- Weak immune system
- Animal-based food products that are high in fat or protein content and lacks fiber, minerals and other essential nutrition
- Environmental factors like UV-rays
- Lifestyle habits like smoking, alcohol consumption
Preventing cancer with plant-based diet
Researchers showed that if the repair mechanism of the cells can be protected, then there is a possibility to prevent cancer as well. Phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables have cancer-preventing properties. It reduces the DNA damage and the mutation rate that causes cancer cell growth. The antioxidant properties found in plant-based whole food diet has positive effects on prevention of cancer.1
A low-fat plant-based diet has shown positive effects in cases of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and skin cancer. As per American Institute of Cancer Research, the major portion of our meals should be based on plant-based food products like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Studies proved that vegetables and fruits prevent from various types of cancers that include mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and lung.
Advantages of a plant-based diet:
- Plant-based food products contain vitamins and minerals that keep the body healthy by strengthening the immune system.
- Plant-based foods are also an excellent source of phytochemicals (biologically active compound) that protect the cells of the body from damage that may lead to cancer.
- High fiber in plant-based foods also reduces the risk of cancer. These foods include whole grain bread and pasta, oats, vegetables, and fruits. The foods also aid in digestion that keeps our gut clear and disease-free.
- Plant-based foods are lower in calories, and thus help to keep a check on excess weight. Overweight and obesity turn to be a vital factor for various major diseases, including cancer.
Plant-based food against specific cancers:
- It is evident that brassica (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts etc) vegetables have positive effects on human health. The study focused mainly on glucosinolates and their hydrolysis products isothiocyanates as they have cancer-preventing properties.
- Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. The research shows metabolic epidemics like obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome etc also shares the equal place globally. Various studies emphasize on low-energy density diets to prevent the risk of breast cancer. Diet regimes that are high on nutrition, a physically active life and a proper weight management helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer is interlinked with dietary habits like your choice of food, combination of food, the process and preparation of food etc. Foods that are plant-based, with low energy density and low glycemic load and high nutritive value is recommended.
- Healthy foods habits can prevent the risk of cancer and help to treat cancer. The mechanism how dietary agents influence the cancer cell is still vague, but researchers have identified thousand different polyphenols from plant-based food. Plant-based diet helps to prevent the cellular manifestations of cancer like changes in gene expression, mitochondrial dysfunction and stem cell exhaustion. It also helps to prevent the changes in the process of cell division and its frequency. Thus Hippocrates quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” holds good in terms of cancer cure and prevention.
- Lime or lemon (Citrus aurantifolia) has antibacterial, anti cancer, antidiabetic, antifungal, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammation, anti-lipidemia and antioxidant properties. It prevents liver, bone, heart and urinary diseases. In many cultural cuisines, lime juice is consumed daily in the form of juice or as ingredient for other cuisines.
- Studies show that fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum), which is a naturally occurring spice, has anticancer properties. It has active beneficial chemical constituents. It also helps to treat diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, wounds, inflammation, and gastrointestinal ailments.
- Pectin found in potato helps to inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and cell cycle progression.
- Plant-based diet approach focuses on strengthening the immunity of the human body and its ability to heal and help stay fit and healthy. It also removes the cancer causing elements from the diet. It is always advised to add a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes to your diet. These contain fiber and rich in nutrititive value that reduces the risk of cancer and help you embrace a healthy and disease-free life.
1. Jyh-Lurn Chang et al.DNA Damage and Repair: Fruit and Vegetable Effects in a Feeding Trial. Nutr Cancer. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Oct 19.
2. Wieczorek MN et al. Bitter taste of Brassica vegetables: The role of genetic factors, receptors, isothiocyanates, glucosinolates, and flavor context. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Jul 18:1-11. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Jul 18:1-11.
3. Shapira N. The potential contribution of dietary factors to breast cancer prevention. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2017 Sep;26(5):385-395
4. Pandey MK et al. Regulation of cell signaling pathways by dietary agents for cancer prevention and treatment. Semin Cancer Biol. 2017 Aug 16. pii: S1044-579X(17)30187-6.
5. Narang N , Jiraungkoorskul W. Anticancer Activity of Key Lime, Citrus aurantifolia. Pharmacogn Rev. 2016 Jul-Dec;10(20):118-122.
6. Khoja KK et al. Fenugreek, a naturally occurring edible spice, kills MCF-7 human breast cancer cells via an apoptotic pathway. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(12):3299-304.
7. Cheng H et al.The inhibitory effects and mechanisms of rhamnogalacturonan I pectin from potato on HT-29 colon cancer cell proliferation and cell cycle progression. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2013 Feb;64(1):36-43.