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Diet During Cancer

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

Guest post by Mim Beim.

Doctor's hands on table facing cancer patient

Cancer is not a new disease. Evidence of it appears in the skeletons of prehistoric man, and Galen, the prominent Greek physician of the 2nd century AD, observed that ‘melancholic’ women appeared to be especially susceptible to cancer of the breast, demonstrating an early recognition of the relationship between mind and body, as well as confirming the long history of a cancer which today affects one in eight women.


Most cells in the body are designed to die after they have achieved their cellular duties, a natural process known as apoptosis. Cancer cells do not follow this law of nature. Cancer cells are immortal, they do not die, they just keep dividing and dividing until their host organism falls off the perch. The DNA or genetic recipe in cancer cells has become mutated or damaged, so that the apoptosis message is not encoded into the dividing cells.


Cancer generally takes years to develop, a gradual progression rather than a spontaneous formation of a tumour. Viewing cancer as a chronic (long term) disease encourages you to make appropriate changes such as decreasing stress, improving diet and losing weight all of which reduce one’s risk of developing many of the different cancers.


Cancer accounts for 30 percent of deaths in Australia. One in every four women, and one in every three men in Australia will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they reach 75 years of age. Although cancer is becoming more commonplace, with over 100,000 new diagnoses each year, the good news is that as knowledge about cancer is increasing exponentially, there is earlier detection and treatments are proving more successful and less injurious to the rest of one’s health. Being diagnosed with cancer is no longer the death sentence it used to be, but it’s still not a diagnosis anyone wants.


There are over 100 different kinds of cancer, the most common cancers in Australia are lung, colon, breast, prostate, melanoma and stomach.

Cancers are named according to the tissue in which they originate;

  • Carcinoma – 80 to 90 per cent of all cancers are this type. It develops from epithelial tissue which is the tissue that covers and lines the body, so this can affect the bowel, the skin, lungs and the ducts of breast tissue.

  • Leukaemia is a blood cancer which develops from bone marrow.

  • Lymphoma develops from lymph tissue.

  • Sarcoma develops in connective tissue including muscle and bone.

  • Cancer cells commonly grow into a mass known as a tumour. Some cells from the tumour may disseminate (metastasize) and colonise other parts of the body, ultimately interfering with the functioning of other tissues and organs. The tumour is capable of creating its own blood supply (known as angiogenesis).


Although changing your diet isn't going to stop you getting cancer, cure it or stop a recurrence, but being conscious of what you put into your body can help give your body the right fuel to fight the disease.


The best advice is to increase fresh vegetables and fruit in your diet, rather than devoting your diet to ‘anti cancer’ foods. However, the following foods have been shown to contain substances that are beneficial in the fight against cancer.

  • Brassica family broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chinese cabbage, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, swede, turnip and watercress contain cancer-preventing substances called indoles and isothiocyanates, which stimulate co-enzyme glutathione to bind and neutralise carcinogens. Indoles appear to have an oestrogen blocking effect similar to Tamoxifen, the drug often given to prevent recurrence of breast cancer.

  • Allium family includes: garlic, onion, leeks and other members of the allium (lily) family contain concentrated sulphur compounds that activate glutathione, the detoxifying co-enzyme. Shown to destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. There have been over 30 anti cancer properties identified in this delicious and odiferous group.

  • Resveratrol is an excellent antioxidant for reducing the effects of carcinogens. It is mainly found in grapes, blueberries, cranberries and rhubarb. Red & Purple grapes, peanuts with skins on and pistachios Resveratrol appears to be able to switch on apoptosis (see above).

  • Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium. Selenium is needed by super antioxidants glutathione peroxidase. Selenium may help reduce angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is where the tumour creates its own system of blood vessels, that provide nutrients for the cancer to further grow.

  • Fermented foods such as miso, yoghurt, sauerkraut, pickles.

  • Seaweed contains fucoidan, which Japanese studies have shown to be protective against cancer.

  • Soy. A diet high in phytoestrogens appears to prevent cancers that are which may be influenced by oestrogen such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. There is an extremely low incidence of breast cancer in Japan, where the diet is high in traditional soy foods.soya beans. There is a lot of controversy about whether soy does indeed help prevent cancer. While the jury is still out, it may be best to include traditionally consumed soy products (such as tempeh, small amounts of tofu, miso and natto) rather than drinking large amounts of soy milk and soy protein powders (not traditional foods).

  • Tomatoes contain lycopene (as do guavas, rosehips, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit) a carotenoid. Heating increases the presence of an antioxidant, which has proved to be beneficial in the prevention of prostate cancer. The only catch is the tomatoes need to be cooked.

  • Mushrooms including reishi, shiitake, maitake and coriolus, cordyceps, field mushroom, porio cocos. These contain beta-glucan polysaccharides, which supports immune function and have an antitumour action.

  • Turmeric is well known for it’s anti-inflammatory abilities. Curcumin, a compound found in this yellow spice is found to influence apoptosis as well as reduce inflammation, a possible trigger for cancer.

  • Green tea contains the EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) an antioxidant found to be useful in reducing the risk of heart disease, neurodegenerative disease as well as cancer.

Speak to your medical team if you need support with managing your diet during your treatment and ensure you have approval for any supplements you wish to add to your diet.


Mim Beim has a thriving naturopathic practice in Mittagong in addition to consulting online with patients around the world. She is also a senior lecturer at the Naturopathic colleges. In 2017, Mim was awarded a fellowship to the NHAA Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, the oldest association of its kind in Australia. She is also one of Australia's foremost breathing educators and Buteyko practitioners. You can find Mim here.


If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this article you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or The Cancer Council on 13 11 20


 

Mental Health Support for Life After Cancer

These are the products that helped me exercise during treatment.



What the F*ck Just Happened?

A Survivor's Guide to Life After Breast Cancer


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The Cancer Survivor Handbook

Your Guide to Building a Life After Cancer


Click to purchase

Support Resources

Cancer Council Australia

CCA an organisation to support all Australians affected by cancer through support, research and prevention programs.


Ovarian Cancer Australia

OCA is an independent national not-for-profit organisation, supporting women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our focus is to provide care and support for those affected by ovarian cancer; and represent them by leading change. Our vision is to save lives and ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.


Breast Cancer Network Australia

BCNA Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is Australia’s leading breast cancer consumer organisation. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that all Australians who are affected by breast cancer receive the very best care, treatment and support.


Bowel Cancer Australia

BCA Peer-to-Peer Support Network connects patient’s and loved ones on a one-to-one buddy basis that enables members to give and receive advice about their bowel cancer experience in an informal and mutually beneficial way.


Leukaemia Foundation

LF is a support service for patients and supporters dealing with blood cancers.


*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.



*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.





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