Monday, January 17, 2011

Edible Healing

Edible Healing

A doctor with a malignant tumor sets out to find his cure. And somes back with dinner.

(Written by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD)

(Article found in Prevention Magazine October 2008)

I was diagnosed with brain cancer about 16 years ago. I received chemotherapy and went into remission, but the cancer came back and I endured two surgeries and 13 months of chemotherapy, I asked my oncologist if I ought to change my diet to avoid another recurrence. His answer was perfectly stereotypical: “Eat what you like. It won’t make much difference.” He was wrong.

The extensive research published in the last decade alone proves that what you eat can have a profound effect on your protection against cancer. But my doctor’s answer was hardly surprising. It’s a little-known fact that nutrition is barely taught in med schools, where the solution to most problems is a drug. And doctors don’t trust patients to make lifestyle changes. I recall a conversation with a fellow physician at a conference after I spoke on the importance of a healthy diet in fighting disease. “You may be right, David, but people don’t want to change,” he said. “They just want to take a pill and forget about it.” I don’t know if he’s right, but after all the study I’ve done, I know it isn’t true for me.

I spent months researching the healing powers of food before I fully grasped my own natural cancer-fighting potential. I met with a variety of researchers, scoured medical databases, and combed scientific publications. I traveled all over the world and consulted experts from nearly every continent.

In my quest, I discovered that the list of anticancer foods is actually quite long. Some foods block natural bodily processes such as inflammation that fuels cancer growth. Others force cancer cells to die through a process that specialists call apoptosis. Still other foods assist the body in detoxifying cancer-causing toxins or protecting against free radicals. But most of them attack the disease on a variety of fronts. And they do it every day, three times a day, without provoking any side effects. To avoid the disease, it’s essential to take advantage of this natural protection, and nurture it.

I’ve learned that the anticancer diet is the exact opposite of the typical American meal: mostly colorful vegetables and legumes, plus unsaturated fats (olive, canola, or flaxseed oils), garlic, herbs, and spices. Meat and eggs are optional. Through extensive research, I devised a list of the most promising cancer fighters, along with recommendations on how to make the most of their potential. Include at least one, and preferably two, at every meal, to maximize your protection.


Japanese Green Tea//Green tea is rich in compounds called polyphenols, including catechins (and particularly EGCG), which reduce the growth of new blood vessels that feed tumors. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and detoxifier (activating enzymes in the liver that eliminate toxins from the body), and it encourages cancer cell death. In the laboratory, it has even been shown to increase the effect of radiation on cancer cells.

Japanese green tea (sench, gyokuro, matcha, etc.) contains more EGCG than common varieties of Chinese green tea, making it the most potent source on the market; look in Asian groceries and tea shops. Black and oolong teas, commonly used to produce popular tea blends such as Earl Grey, are less effective because they’ve been fermented, which destroys a large proportion of their polyphenols. Decaffeinated green teas, which retain the polyphenols despite the process of decaffeination, are also an option if you’re sensitive to caffeine. How to drink it: Sip 2-3 cups a day within an hour of brewing. Green tea must be steeped for at least 5-8 minutes-ideally 10-to release its catechins, but it loses its beneficial polyphenols after an hour or two.

Pomegranate Juice//This juice, which tastes like raspberries, has been used in Persian medicine for thousands of years. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are well confirmed; studies show it can substantially reduce the development of even the most aggressive prostate cancers (among others). In addition, drinking it daily slows the spread of an established prostate cancer by more than 50%. How to drink it: Have 8 ounces daily with breakfast.


Ginger//Fresh ginger, or gingerroot, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that combats certain cancer cells and helps slow tumor growth. A ginger infusion can also alleviate nausea from chemotherapy or radiotherapy. How to use it: Add grated fresh ginger to a vegetable stir-fry or fruit salad. Or, make an infusion by slicing a 1-inch piece of ginger and steeping it in boiling water for 10-15 minutes; drink hot or cold.

Turmeric//found in curry powder, this spice is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory available today. It encourages cancer cell death, inhibits tumor growth, and even enhances the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Some research shows that turmeric is most effective in humans when it’s mixed with black pepper and dissolved in oil (olive or canola, preferably). In store-bought curry mixes, turmeric represents only 20% of the total, so it’s better to obtain ground turmeric directly from a spice shop. How to use it: mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder with a teaspoon if olive oil and a generous pinch of ground black pepper and add to vegetables, soups, and salad dressings. Use a tablespoon if you already have cancer. If it tastes too bitter for you, add a few drops of honey or agave nectar.


Cabbage and other cruciferous greens//Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower all contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols, two potent anticancer molecules. These molecules help the body detoxify certain carcinogenic substances and can help prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors. They also promote the suicide of cancer cells and block tumor growth. How to prepare them: cover and steam briefly or stir-fry rapidly with a little olive oil. Avoid boiling cabbage and broccoli, which destroys their cancer-fighting compounds.

Garlic, Onions, Leeks, Shallots, Chives//The sulfur compounds found in this group (the alliaceous family) promote the death of colon, breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells. Epidemiological studies also suggest a lower risk of kidney and prostate cancer in people who consume the most garlic. How to eat them: the active compounds in garlic are released when you crush the clove, and they’re combined with a small amount of oil. Saute chopped garlic and onions in a little olive oil, mix with steamed or stir-fried vegetables, and toss with black pepper and turmeric. They can also be consumed raw, mixed in salads, or layered on sandwiches.


Soy//Compounds called isoflavones (including genistein, daidzein, and glycitein) prevent tumor growth and block the stimulation of cancer cells by sex hormones (such as estrogens and testosterone). There are significantly fewer breast cancer cases among Asian women who have eaten soy since adolescence, and when they do have breast cancer, their tumors are usually less aggressive with higher survival rates. Isoflavone supplements (in pill form) have been associated with an aggravation of certain breast cancers, but whole soy, eaten as food, has not. How to eat: replace conventional milk products with soy milk or soy yogurts for breakfast. Also, use tofu, tempeh, and miso in soups and stir-fries.

Fatty Fish//The risk of several cancers is significantly lower in people who eat fish at least twice a week. Several studies discovered that the anti-inflammatory long-chain omega-3s found in fatty fish (or in high-quality purified fish oil supplements) can help slow cancer cell growth in a large number of tumors (lung, breast, colon, prostate, kidney, etc.). How to eat it: have a seafood-based meal two or three times a week. Choose small fish, such as anchovies, small mackerel, and sardines (including canned sardines, provided they are preserved in olive oil and not sunflower oil, which is too rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats). Small fish contain fewer environmental toxins such as PCBs and mercury. Wild salmon is also a good source of omega-3 fats and the level of contamination is still acceptable. Choose fresh over frozen whenever possible, because omega-3 content degrades over time.


Citrus//Oranges, tangerines, lemons, and grapefruit contain anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids that stimulate the detoxification of carcinogens by the liver. Certain flavonoids in the skin of tangerines can also help promote the death of brain cancer cells. How to Eat it: Sprinkle grated citrus zest into salad dressings or breakfast cereals, or steep in tea or hot water. Eat whole fruits out of hand, toss with other fruits in a salad, or use in a salsa to season grilled fish.

Berries//Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries contain ellagic acid and a large number of polyphenols, which inhibit tumor growth. Two polyphenols found in berries, promote cancer cell death. How to eat them: at breakfast, mix fruit with soy milk and multigrain cereals. (The best cereal options combine oats, bran, flaxseed, rye, barley, spelt, and so on.) Frozen berries are just as potent as fresh.


Dark chocolate//Chocolates containing over 70% cocoa provide a number of antioxidants, proanthocycanids, and many polyphenols. In fact, a square of dark chocolate contains twice as many as a glass of red wine and almost as many as a cup of green tea properly steeped. These molecules slow the growth of cancer cells and limit the blood vessels that feed them. How to eat it: enjoy about 1/5 of a dark chocolate bar a day guilt free. Milk chocolate isn’t a good alternative because dairy cancels out the cancer protection of the polyphenol compounds.

To date, there is no alternative approach that can cure cancer, and I believe that the best of conventional medicine-surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and soon, molecular genetics-must be used to treat this disease. But to neglect your own natural cancer-fighting capacity is folly. I’ve kept cancer at bay for 8 years now, and I attribute my survival largely to the changes I’ve made in my diet and lifestyle. I exercise and meditate more and eat wholesome anticancer foods on a daily basis. Still, the medical establishment is slow to embrace this approach. After my last screening at the university’s cancer center, I stopped at the cafeteria and discovered eight different types of tea; Darjeeling, Earl, Grey, chamomile, and several fruit-flavored herbal teas. Sadly, there was not a single packet of green tea in the lot.


Mayo said...

Toxins enter our bodies from what we eat and drink, from the air we breathe, and from what we put on our skins.

In fact, what's put on the skin, the body's largest organ, reaches organs faster than what we swallow (what's in our gastrointestinal tract) !

With this in mind, selecting chemical-free skin and hair care products can make your quality of life better - and possibly save your life! Research is showing a buildup of chemicals on the skin can cause acne, dry skin and skin cancer.

One of the worst (most toxic) ingredients in all kinds of products is "fragrance". Here's a link to a page with clear information about what to look for - or avoid - in products you buy.

Christa said...

I liked the part of this article where he recognizes that the list of anti cancer foods is quite long and for a variety of reasons. I definitely believe that healthy eating can help fight cancer. There is no doubt about it.

What I don't like are lists. For example his small list of what foods are cancer fighters. I don't like it because it gives people the idea that if they don't have all of these "miracle" foods all the time, then they are not eating healthy or protecting their bodies. There are so many foods out there that have similar or even the same affects to the foods in his list. I just don't want people to get the idea that there are a few certain foods that will cure everything else (not you sum, but other people who would happen to read the article). In reality if we just do what our momma told us to do and eat our veggies (etc) we will be doing so much good for our bodies.

There is no 1 food or list of foods that is optimal to eat. There are so many. For example, there are plenty of foods on the "acid" list that are great foods, but if someone gets the idea that all acid foods are bad for them then they will be missing out on the goodness in THAT food. The key is in variety. Keep in mind the big picture. You can't get all your nutrition from one food.

I love that you guys are changing your lifestyles for healthier eating! I wish more people would just decide to be conscious about what they eat. I don't think that there is necessarily only one right way to do it, but you are doing great.

I know that you are smart about what you choose to eat. I just worry about people (like my parents, don't tell them I said that. haha) who don't do enough research themselves and attach themselves to one little rule, list, miracle food, or supplement that they hear about. People will believe anything they hear. That's why I don't like lists or diets because so many people think it's the only way when it usually is not.

Sorry about the rant. I just realized it's long and probably doesn't make sense.

Love you guys. You are seriously the best.