Foods to “Cure” Cancer: Miracle or myth

  • 19 December 2011

I just came across an online article in Prevention magazine entitled “Edible Healing: Food Cures for Cancer.” The byline? “A doctor with a malignant tumor sets out to find his cure. And comes back with dinner.”

The phrase “cancer cure” always gets my attention as a breast cancer survivor whose middle name is “Cynic.”  Could certain foods be the panacea that replaces or supplements targeted anti-cancer drugs approved by the FDA?

Newly on my own, I am shopping for items to fill my pantry, refrigerator and cupboards.  Not only am I seeking staples, condiments and perishables, but also inexpensive gadgets that promise to ease my new life as a personal chef.  These items include a grater, a funnel and a handy-dandy can colander for draining fruit-juice concentrate from my canned peaches. Bed, Bath and Beyond graciously sold me a funnel (actually two-in-one), but I’m waiting for another store coupon before shopping for the other nifty, but non-essential, kitchen toys I once enjoyed.

But are they non-essential? The Prevention article touts the incredible benefits of zest from citrus fruit peel. And the author promotes grated ginger as the be-all, end-all spice. Must I use valuable gas to race to the nearest big-box store to acquire a grater–even in the absence of a coupon?

The first rendition of the article by this author is dated September 2008. The Prevention version published in November 2011 is adapted by arrangement with Viking. I do wonder what adaptations were made to the original, because the benefits of various food items to prevent a host of medical maladies change with the wind. In the three years since the original version of this Prevention article appeared, nutritionists have certainly written extensively on the supposed health benefits of all these foods.

And it is important to note that the author of the article, David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, was diagnosed with brain cancer, not breast cancer.

For those with breast cancer, products made with soy–trumpeted in the article as an important protein–may not be the best to ingest in large quantities. Having been diagnosed with an estrogen-receptor-positive tumor, I take no chances with soy: my milk of choice is unsweetened almond milk, and I limit my consumption of tofu to a few times a week. The Japanese “soy story” to which the author refers to support his claim is complicated by other factors.

And for those with lymphedema, traditional soy sauce is laden with salt.  Because we “lymphers” have been advised to limit our salt intake to stave off retention of unwanted fluids in the body part affected, if I ever do buy soy sauce, it will be the low-salt variety. Just sayin….

As to the “Cure It with Dessert” link of the article, I risk the wrath of all women by taking issue with the dark chocolate advice. I actually avoid chocolate of any kind, including dark chocolate, because it sets off overeating binges in me. Best to avoid that which overfeeds the soul. Better desserts for me include watermelon, strawberries or raspberries with low- or no-fat whipped cream, or a slice of pumpkin pie (preferably without the crust). None of these trigger binges, they are delightfully tasty, and they satisfy my sweet tooth. To each her own comfort food.

I subscribe to the nutritional advice advocated by breastcancer.org on foods to consider. Most nutritionists are of the opinion that the healthful components in a variety of foods work together to provide benefits. The properties of any single food must be weighed in the context of the entire diet. Rather than rely on a particular food in large amounts, try for a balanced diet with a plethora of foods that includes: five or more cups of fruits and vegetables daily and food from other plant sources, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, rice, pasta, and beans.

And make sure you adopt other lifestyle choices and coping skills than just sensible nutrition:  use of humor, journaling, volunteering, support groups, minimizing exposure to toxins (such as parabens, benzene in gas and BPA), meditation/prayer and exercise are a few. A recent CBS Philly article provides some food for thought: avoid unnecessary medical radiation, limit use of combination estrogen-progestin menopausal hormone therapy, reduce alcohol consumption, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and avoid tobacco use. Can’t hurt.

So do I buy that grater and some “As Seen on TV” gizmos to make my “kitschen” life easier? Maybe I’ll settle on the grater. Or just settle for powdered ginger and preshredded low-fat cheese. We’ll see. Right now I’m just enjoying a zest for life.

Do you believe that adopting a certain lifestyle can cure cancer? That it can cure breast cancer? What nutritional plan do you follow to maintain optimum health?

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