Cancer (How to Keep Your Body Healthy)

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That growth activity requires energy, and so cancer cells metabolize nutrients in different ways from the healthy cells around them. In an attempt to kill the tumor without killing the normally functioning cells, chemotherapy drugs target these pathways inside of cancer cells. This is notoriously difficult, expensive, and prone to toxic side effects that account for much of the suffering associated with the disease.

Now doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. The importance of nutrition has long been accepted for conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, diagnoses that come with well-known dietary prescriptions. Even the most commonly used drug in type 2 diabetes, metformin, has been found in clinical trials to be inferior to diet and exercise. Cell biologists like Locasale see extending that line of thinking to cancer as a logical step, because at the cellular level, cancer is also a disease of metabolic pathways.

Suggesting that people fast or starve themselves to kill a tumor has been the domain of dubious and exaggerated claims over the years, and that is not the suggestion now. In recent trials, metabolic pathways have been targeted though various approaches to changing what people eat. Some research has involved minimizing sugar intake. Indeed, some cancer cells metabolize glucose at higher than normal levels to support the process of aerobic glycolysis , and depleting their access to sugar can slow growth.

Reviewed: 31 Aug 2017 Next review: 2020

Read: Preventing cancer through good food and exercise. In a paper in Nature , the researchers suggest that the effect was related to decreasing the levels of insulin that the pancreas releases into the blood in response to eating. While the sugar-and-insulin angle has shown promise, more of the research has focused on dietary protein—or, specifically, individual amino acids that make up that protein.

Staying Healthy During the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Studies have shown that the restriction of the amino acids serine and glycine can modulate cancer outcomes. According to a study in Nature , the chemotherapy drug methotrexate is affected by the amino acid histidine. Another, asparagine, is involved in the progression of breast cancer metastasis.

The most interest has gone to methionine, which is found in high levels in eggs and red meat. Methionine is made in normal cells—out of homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B However, many types of cancer cells lack the enzyme that makes cellular manufacturing of methionine possible. So they require extra methionine from outside the body—via food we eat—for survival.

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Cut off that supply, and it should help to slow the tumor without starving the person. This month, Locasale and his colleagues at Duke released findings showing that restricting methionine decreased tumor growth in mice and human subjects. Eating plenty of whole plant foods is linked with a lower risk of lung, oral, esophageal, stomach and colon cancer. At this point, it's not clear which components in vegetables and fruits are most protective against cancer. So enjoy a variety of whole foods naturally-rich in nutrients.

Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, and make at least half your grains whole grains. Some studies suggest a link between colon cancer and eating large amounts of red meat. This is especially true for processed meat such as ham, bacon and hot dogs. Your best bet is to enjoy animal protein in moderation.

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  8. Enjoy a small portion of meat and fill the rest of your plate with whole grains and vegetables. Beans and lentils are nutritious and affordable sources of protein and dietary fiber. Nutrient-dense plant-based proteins also include tofu and tempeh. Eating more plant protein than animal protein is associated with a lower risk of many types of cancers.

    Evidence suggests all types of alcoholic drinks may increase your risk of a number of cancers, including cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum. It's unclear exactly how alcohol affects cancer risk. It is considered more harmful when combined with smoking.

    8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer

    If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one drink daily for women and two for men. Whole foods are your best bet for reducing cancer risk. Research suggests the nutrients found naturally in foods offers a protective effect. The same findings do not appear to be true for supplements.

    Thus, the best sources of nutrients for cancer prevention are nutrient-rich whole foods and healthful beverages. Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements.