Food as therapy

Ever wondered what the nutritional benefits of the food you’re eating are. Here is a list of food items that have several health benefits for us:

Green Tea

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, including catechins, which reduce the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumor growth and metastases.  It is a powerful anti-oxidant and detoxifier, as well; it facilitates the death of cancer cells by apoptosis.  Laboratory studies have shown green tea to enhance the effects of radiation therapy on cancer cells.  Be sure to drink green tea within an hour after preparation as the beneficial polyphenols may begin to decline after 1-2 hours.


The ginger root is a powerful anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant.  In the laboratory ginger extracts have been shown to act against cancer cells and reduce angiogenesis.  In the clinic, ginger infusion has been shown to relieve nausea from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.  A ginger infusion can be made by slicing small amounts of fresh ginger and placing into a step of boiling water for 10-15 minutes.  This can be drunk hot or cold.

Cabbage (Cruciform) vegetables

Cabbages such as broccoli, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain powerful anti-cancer molecules such as sulforaphan and indo-3-carbinols (I3C).  These molecules are capable of detoxifying carcinogenic substances and preventing pre-cancerous cells from developing into full-blown malignant tumors.  In the laboratory these molecules promote apoptosis (cell suicide) and block the formation of new blood vessels (anti-angiogenesis).  These foods are best steamed or lightly stir-fried; avoid boiling them which risks destroying the key molecules.

Turmeric & Curry

Turmeric, the yellow powder component of curry, is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory known today.  It is well studied in its effect on stimulating cancer cell death (apoptosis) and inhibiting cancerous blood vessels (anti-angiogenesis).  Lab studies have also shown that it can enhance certain chemotherapy drugs and reduce tumor growth.  To be assimilated best in the body, it must be mixed with black pepper and dissolved in oil.  In shop-bought curry mixes turmeric is only a fraction of the total so it is best to buy pure turmeric powder.  Add a mix of turmeric, black pepper, and olive oil to vegetable and soups for a savory health benefit.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic is one of the oldest medicinal herbs.  “Prescriptions” for garlic have been found on Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 3000 BC.  Louis Pasteur noted its anti-bacterial properties in 1858 and in World War I; garlic was used in bandages to prevent infection.

The sulphur compounds common in this family reduce the cancer generating effects of nitrosamines and similar compounds generated from grilling meats and during tobacco combustion.  These beneficial sulphur compounds also promote cancer cell death in colon, breast, lung, and prostate cancers.  Published studies have also shown an association between garlic consumption and reduced risk of prostate and kidney cancers.  The active molecules are best released after crushing garlic cloves and can be assimilated better if dissolved in olive oil.  Garlic and onions can be chopped, gently fried, and combined with many dishes for a healthy meal.

Caretinoids – Vegetables & Fruit

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots, yams, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, apricots, and beetroots contain high levels of vitamin A and lycopene.  These food-based molecules have the proven capacity to inhibit the growth of several cancerous cell lines, including aggressive forms of brain cancer.  Further, the molecules lutein, lycopene, phytoene, and canthaxanthine found in these foods all stimulate the bodies natural immune system and increase the capacity to attack tumor cells.  Natural killer cells (NK cells) can be become particularly stimulated.  Clinical studies confirm that patients who consume more foods rich in Caretinoids live longer than those who do not.


Shiitake, maitake, enoki, crimini, portabella, trametes (coriolus) and many others all contain important polysaccharides and lentinian, which stimulates the reproduction and the activity of immune cells.  These mushrooms are often used as an adjunct to treatment in Japan; they help support the immune system after chemotherapy.  Maitake and trametes are best known for the immunostimulatory effects.  Lightly cooked or raw, mushrooms can be used with many savory dishes and soups.  They can also be easily combined with garlic and other healthy vegetables.


Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries all contain ellagic acid and a large number of anti-cancer polyphenols.  These foods are known to stimulate elimination of carcinogens and to inhibit cancerous blood vessels.  They contain molecules known as anthocyanidines and proanthocyanidines that promote apoptosis in cancer cells.  Ellagic acid from raspberries and strawberries has been clearly shown to block the stimulation of blood vessels by blocking key molecules in the body known as VEGF and PDGF.  Ellagic acid is also very effective at eliminating toxins form the body.  Blueberries are also well known to help promote health.  The cycandin family of molecules hey contain help promote apoptosis and can be particularly effective in the lab against colon cancer.  Interestingly, dark chocolate and cinnamon also contain these molecules.

Dark chocolate

Chocolate with more than 70% cocoa contains a large number of anti-oxidants, proanthocyanidines, and polyphenols.  In fact, a small square of chocolate contains twice as many as a glass of red wine.  Polyphenols are well documented to slow the growth of cancer cells and limit angiogenesis.  All should note however that mixing dairy with chocolate negates the beneficial effects of the molecules in chocolate.  In short, we should avoid milk chocolate.  Chocolate has other medicinal benefits on mood and anxiety and raises blood sugar less than a slice of common white bread.  Chocolate is also great to combine with green tea, ginger, or citrus fruits.

Red Wine

The benefits of red wine are widely touted as part of a Mediterranean style diet.  The key molecule in red wine is reservatrol, also a polyphenol.  The polyphenols are extracted form the fermentation and the concentration is much greater in wine than in grape juice.  White wine, made without skin and seeds, lacks significant reservatrol.  Reservatrol is well studied and acts on human genes (sirtuins) that help protect healthy cells from ageing.  By blocking a key molecule in inflammation (NF-Kappa Beta), reservatrol slows the initiation, promotion, and progression of cancer.  Wine lovers take note; the wines from Burgundy (Pinot Noir grape) are particularly rich in reservatrol.

[Image source: on flickr]

Original article was written on 19 December 2013