When I look into the reasons why so many people suffer from health problems like cancer, I keep coming across common daily habits that put our health at risk.
And it doesn’t have to be that way. For many of us, all it takes is a mere tweak to our routines to make them a health solution instead of a health problem.
For instance, think about snacking. Most of us munch on a snack at least once a day, and many indulge far more often. Around the world, snacking is big business – Globally, we spend more than a billion dollars a day on chips, ice cream and other between-meal treats.1
And what do we mostly indulge in? In the US, about two-thirds of us prefer potato chips or tortilla chips.
But starchy, processed snacks like those are taking our health (and waistlines) in the wrong direction – down and out.
Now, I’m not saying we need to give up snacking. But instead of chips or candy, there’s a snack that’s just as satisfying and incredibly good for you. It ramps up your body’s production of enzymes that fight cancer and other diseases. Plus, it may help you lose weight, instead of adding more pounds around the middle.
Oh, and it’s easily portable. You can take it anywhere. And it requires no preparation.
Interested? Keep reading. . .
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The snack I prefer — and which leads to preferable health — is nuts.
It doesn’t matter much which nuts you like best. Take your pick. Just about any kind of nut will improve your health and the way your body fights off cancer. And they’re also good for your heart health.
Enzymes in nuts take aim at cancer
Before I get into the individual nutrients, one of the more interesting recent studies I’ve seen on the anti-cancer benefits of nuts sheds light on how the body reacts to them when you eat and digest them.
That reaction helps fight off cancer.
In lab tests in Germany, scientists took five different varieties of nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds and macadamia nuts – and artificially digested them by soaking them in digestive juices contained in test tubes.
Then cells were exposed to these digested nuts to gauge their response.
It was all good. What the researchers found was that the digestive products from the nuts boosted cells’ production and activity of the enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase – antioxidant enzymes that protect cells from cancer.2 Long-time readers of this newsletter know that SOD is important (see Issue #92 for more.)
When cancer cells encountered the digested nuts, they were killed off. Specifically, they were stimulated to undergo apoptosis – the controlled, programmed self-destruction that is an important tool in the body to keep tumors from forming.
According to the German researchers, catalase and superoxide dismutase are crucial for keeping destructive oxidative processes in the body in check. Otherwise, the free radicals that arise from things like sunlight, toxic chemicals and even some byproducts of digestion can damage DNA and cause normal cells to turn cancerous.
For those of us who just like to eat, the best part of the evidence is that just about any type of nut seems to protect against cancer.
“We were able to show this effect is mediated by all the types of nuts studied,” says researcher Michael Glei.
Catalase teams up with vitamin C
And by the way, researchers have found that there’s an unexpected twist in the way that the enzyme catalase in your cells can help eliminate cancer: It can team up with vitamin C in the body to help kill cancer cells.
Research at the University of Iowa was aimed at figuring out how large amounts of vitamin C can eliminate tumors (the researchers were giving vitamin C intravenously in very large amounts to people with cancer). In the course of the trial, they found that it’s the presence of catalase in healthy cells that makes the vitamin C so useful.3
In the body, the researchers explain, vitamin C breaks down fairly quickly and, in this process, generates hydrogen peroxide, which is what they call a “reactive oxygen species” – a free radical that can oxidize a cell’s DNA and also damage other cell parts.
But healthy cells are not harmed by the vitamin C. They use their access to catalase to remove hydrogen peroxide that is created when vitamin C breaks down. Cancer cells, in contrast, don’t possess much catalase. Instead, the hydrogen peroxide severely damages them and kills them when vitamin C breaks down.4
Right now the Iowa researchers are in clinical trials to see how well vitamin C can be used, along with conventional therapies, to treat lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.
The nut formula
Even aside from the anti-cancer enzymes that nuts cause the body to formulate, there’s a substantial list of natural chemicals in nuts that do good things for your body.
As a matter of fact, it strikes me that a list of the compounds found in nuts reads like something that might have been specifically designed to keep you out of the doctor’s office:
- Fiber: A cup of nuts contains about 9 grams of fiber. This kind of dietary fiber can shrink your chances of cancers like colon cancer, oral cancer, cancer of the pharynx and esophageal cancer.5 It’s also good for your waistline and heart.
- Vitamin E: This fat-soluble antioxidant helps defend cell membranes from free radical damage. It is also linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.6 And the fact that nuts have fat in them makes their vitamin E easier for your body to absorb.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Most of us get way too little omega-3 fats in our diet – instead, we consume large amounts of vegetable oils that overload us with omega-6 fats. But omega-3s are a key to helping the body keep inflammation under control. And keeping chronic inflammation in check plays an important role in reducing cancer risk.
- Phytosterols: While much has been made about how plant sterols improve heart health, researchers at State University of New York, Stony Brook, say these plant compounds boast anti-cancer benefits as well. Research shows they can help the body resist colon cancer and lung cancer.7
- Monounsaturated fat: This type of fat has been shown to help lower the risk of endometrial cancer.8
Improves insulin function
Another interesting tidbit turned up by cancer researchers is that nuts may lower a man’s chances of dying from aggressive prostate cancer by improving his insulin sensitivity.
When researchers at Harvard looked at prostate cancer deaths among more than 47,000 men taking part in what’s called the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, they found that snacking on nuts five or more times weekly after a diagnosis of prostate cancer cut the chances of dying during the 26 years of the research by more than one-third.9
The scientists point out that nuts have been shown to lower insulin resistance. And studies also demonstrate that insulin resistance can make prostate cancer particularly deadly.
The Harvard researchers recommend eating at least 1.5 ounces of nuts every day – about 1/3 of a cup. I usually eat even more than that, usually about two handfuls a day.
You can also add nuts to other foods – sprinkled on a salad or added to fruit and vegetables. Eating nuts raw gives you the most benefit – when they’re roasted, some of their nutrients break down.
Another way to enjoy them: Eat nut butters that are often made fresh – and without additives like sugar and preservatives — at local health food stores or at an outlet like Whole Foods.
It doesn’t happen often that something so good for you is so tasty and satisfying. Nuts are my go-to when I need a snack.
We’re on a roll this week when it comes to unusual cancer remedies. Our last issue talked about a little-known cancer-fighter found in some cough medicines. If you missed it, we’re running it again just below.