For decades, it’s been the holy grail of science, the ultimate human achievement; discovering the cure for cancer.
But what if the real cure was not waiting to be discovered in a lab, what if – in fact, it were to reside in trees, in fields, on bushes and fresh from the soil as natural as the produce of elements of earth, wind, fire and water. What if the cure – or at very least, the prevention – were actually in the food we eat to sustain us every day?
To understand the attempt to cure cancer, it is important to first understand what cancer is and how it manifests within the body.
Cancer is a blanket term for over two hundred different diseases that form in a similar manner through the uncontrollable division of cells and the formation of tumours. The division of cells occurs as a result of carcinogens, which cause damage to the DNA or alter the metabolism of the cells.
There are several factors that cause cancers of the human body. Occasionally genetics are the primary reason, infectious agents and viruses can also play a key role in the development of specific types of cancer, as can occupational exposure to atmospheric toxins.
It is however, generally believed by experts that the vast majority of cancers are as a result of lifestyle choices. With increasing frequency, governments and health organisations are attempting to educate and inform people to be able to make decisions to aid in the prevention of the condition.
What choices can lead to cancer?
The effects of tobacco smoke on the body are well researched and the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is indisputable. Cigarettes contain over 1000 carcinogens including tar, formaldehyde and arsenic. To stop cigarette smoking would be the singular most beneficial thing an individual could do to prevent developing cancer. Smoking is also a contributory factor in cancer of the oesophagus, larynx, bladder, stomach and liver to name but a few.
There is a body of evidence showing over exposure to sunlight is also something that significantly increases the risk of malignant melanoma and non melanoma skin cancer, primarily through direct sunburn or the use of tanning beds. UV light can be a lethal carcinogen.
On a more positive note, studies also show exercise levels can cause a reduction in an individual’s risk of contracting cancer. Those participating in more than 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a week could potentially benefit from protection against colon, breast and endometrial cancer.
Less researched but perhaps most intriguing of all is the link between cancer and diet. Thanks to globalisation, we are lucky to have access to the widest range of foods in the history of mankind. Food consumption is no longer by necessity linked to the produce of the season and we have an unprecedented choice in what we decide to fuel our bodies with. It is these choices that have massive implications for our health on both a daily and long term basis.
It is an established fact that the consumption and certainly the overconsumption of certain foods are predisposed towards causing health complications. Refined sugar, trans fats, dairy and processed foods are accepted as the main culprits of the obesity epidemic gripping the developed world, the carcinogenic properties of these foods is also being explored and early results of studies show that diet could be a major player in the role of cancer prevention.
So, what about the role of food as a healer within the diet of a cancer sufferer?
Modern medicine seeks treatment through various measures, specific to the cancer; radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the most conventional methods. Often, surgical intervention is seen as a necessary weapon in the battle against cancer.
It can be an aggressive approach with the emphasis on the destruction of the alien cells as opposed to the healing of the body.
What other options are there?
There is a growing movement advocating the use of diet as a potent cure for cancer, more specifically the consumption of whole foods and of natural, organic produce. Fruits and vegetables are now being bestowed with miraculous properties, most specifically those that contain high levels of antioxidants.
And antioxidants – what are they?
Basically antioxidants are nutrients that protect and repair cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radical damage within cells can cause the imbalances that lead to cancer. Antioxidants are found within vitamins and minerals contained in certain foods and they act like guards against the formation of free radicals. They do this by evening out the formation of molecules and ensuring normal cell production and multiplication.
So, where would you find them?
Carotenoids, a group of antioxidants, occur naturally in certain fruit and vegetables. Beta carotene is a highly potent antioxidant found abundantly in fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly those that are orange in colour. Foods such as carrots, squash, sweet potato and pumpkin all have high beta carotene levels. This particular antioxidant is also found to be rich in certain green, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach. The body then converts this into vitamin A as required.
Vitamin A is considered to be a strong ally in the body’s fight against cancer, found in high concentrations in the leaves of broccoli and more unusually; dandelions.
Lycopene is another antioxidant that is found most highly in tomatoes, research has shown that it may assist in maintaining a healthy metabolism of cells.
Fibre, which speeds up the transit of waste matter through the colon, is considered to be a strong ally in the fight against cancer. There are many fruits and vegetables which are high in fibre, both soluble and insoluble – each type is useful in aiding digestion. Soluble fibre is inherent in all plant based foods, highly so in plums, bananas, apples and pears. Cauliflower, green beans and celery contain high levels of insoluble fibre.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is an invaluable nutrient required by the human body for general functioning. Vitamin C is available in a wide range of fruits and particularly citrus fruits, strawberries and cantaloupe melon.
The native people of Australia, the Aborigine tribe have, for many years, actually been using a fruit known as a Kakadu plum, as a traditional medicine. The fruit can contain a concentration of up to 5300mg of vitamin C per 100g of plum, in comparison to 50mg of vitamin C in 100g of orange.
The Kakadu plum been shown to cure a range of disorders and infections and interestingly, has been particularly effective as a treatment for leprosy.
Vitamin C is also found in strong supply in colourful vegetables, red, green and orange peppers all contain high levels. Broccoli is also known to contain high concentrations of the vitamin, as are Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
The role of fruit and vegetables is indisputable in maintaining good health but could they ever replace orthodox medical treatments for cancer?
It will be for time to tell whether the cure will be found in the science lab or out in the fields. What is for certain, is for the millions of sufferers all over the world, it won’t be a moment too soon