When cancer cells form a tumor and then try to spread, they need a steady supply of nutrients to fuel their expansion from the original tumor. These malignant cells are programmed to multiply as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, they must be fed.
And one of their secret weapons in procuring food for growth is their ability to fool the body’s circulatory system into providing the necessary nourishment. Doctors use a number of drugs to stop this process, called angiogenesis, with mixed results. However, there are also natural methods that are effective and can benefit anyone fighting cancer.
Angiogenesis is a hallmark of life-threatening cancer. It happens because cancer cells send out specialized chemical messages that signal existing blood vessels to branch out into new vessels that offer an increased blood supply to support malignant growth.
In their attempts to counter this deadly process, pharmaceutical companies have been devising anti-angiogenic drugs meant to lay siege to tumors. But success with these drugs has been limited, because along with blocking the creation of new blood vessels, these medicines often produce dangerous side effects such as stroke, heart attack, memory problems and high blood pressure.1
Luckily, though, if you’re looking to improve your odds of not getting cancer or stopping cancer somewhere in your body from spreading, there are foods that can help. In fact, if you incorporate the right foods into your diet, you’ll consume natural substances that have been shown to limit cancer’s ability to conjure up a blood supply to feed its nefarious wanderlust.
Eating a Mediterranean diet
Among researchers who have investigated the best diet plans for their anti-angiogenic effects, much of the consensus has centered on the Mediterranean diet. This is the type of traditional diet that evolved along the shores of the Mediterranean in Greece and Crete.
This diet generally consists of ample servings of fruits and vegetables along with a limited intake of red meat, few dairy products, consistent consumption of fish and a small quantity of red wine.
Of all the foods that are contained in the Mediterranean diet, some researchers now believe it’s the use of virgin or extra virgin olive oil that may have the most powerful benefit in stopping cancer cells from stimulating new blood vessel growth.
The “virgin” forms of olive oil are those that are the least processed and have not been heated or treated with chemicals. On the other hand, bottled oils that are merely labeled as “olive oil,” are more highly refined and their processing may remove some of the more healthful ingredients from the oil.
Extra virgin olive oil’s secret cancer-fighters
For instance, a class of natural compounds called phenols are included in virgin olive oils but are mostly removed in refined oil. And that’s important! In particular, a phenol called hydroxytyrosol – just about nonexistent in refined olive oil – is one of these phenolic chemicals that have been shown in several studies to prevent extra blood vessels from feeding tumors.2
Ursolic acid is another natural substance found in olive oil that can put a stop to vessel growth. By the way, ursolic acid is also found in apple peels, grape skins and cranberry juice. Research shows that when cancer cells try to send out chemical messages summoning new blood vessels, ursolic acid can jam those signals and keep the blood supply from coming to the aid of the malignant cells.3
Can shrink prostate tumors
In the research on the anti-cancer benefits of ursolic acid, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have also found that combining this natural chemical with curcumin (from turmeric) and resveratrol (from grapes or red wine) has a synergistic effect that may be able to shrink prostate tumors.4 The study demonstrates that along with ursolic acid’s ability to snuff out angiogenesis, the three natural compounds used together cut off cancer cells from accumulating glutamine – an amino acid that cancer cells need for better survival and faster growth.5
The scientists point out that the collective effect of these three nutrients also results in more frequent apoptosis – programmed cell death – among cancer cells.
Lycopene: Red death for cancer
Studies on lycopene, the carotenoid pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, shows that adding tomatoes or tomato sauce to your next meal can also enhance that meal’s anti-angiogenic benefits.
A study at Harvard in conjunction with researchers at Ohio State analyzed the health and diets of more than 50,000 American men for 20 years and found that consumption of lycopene (in tomatoes, tomato products and pink grapefruit) could significantly lower the risk of prostate cancer and the chances of dying from the disease. Plus, they believe that much of this risk reduction is linked to lycopene’s ability to limit blood supply to prostate tumors, which, in turn, curtails tumors’ aggressiveness.6
When you consume lycopene-rich meals, you should avoid foods high in calcium and/or iron to get the most benefit from lycopene.
Research at Ohio State shows that an iron supplement or iron-rich foods like beef, pork or poultry limit lycopene absorption.7 And a study in France demonstrates that calcium supplements or dairy-rich foods like cheese, milk or yogurt also limit lycopene’s bioavailability.8
A few other foods help stamp out cancer’s signals to create extra blood vessels. They include:
Cranberries: Research at Women and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island shows that cranberries can block growth factors that stimulate blood vessel growth that are released by ovarian cancer.9
Cinnamon: A study at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Duarte, California, shows that natural chemicals in cinnamon inhibit the production of chemical signals that attract blood vessels to tumors.10
Broccoli: Sulforaphane, a natural chemical found in broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, can put a stop to the angiogenic activity of liver cancer cells, according to research at the University of East Anglia in England.11
As you can see, when it comes to your chances of suffering aggressive cancer, you’re far from defenseless!
All of these natural foods I’ve mentioned help your body fight back against the nasty tricks that cancer cells employ to take root in the body and grow. And in addition to restricting blood flow to tumors, these foods also possess other potent anti-cancer benefits that can help you prevent and even treat cancer.
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