Nutrition and Cancer
Nutrition and Cancer
Many people do not realise that around 30% of all cancer cases in Western society are caused by poor diet and lifestyle habits. Most people believe that cancer will 'come when it comes' and there is nothing we can do to help prevent it. In many cases, this is true as there are a number of cancers that are caused by genetic defects, however a large
proportion are not caused by genetics and can be prevented by very simple methods.
So, what is cancer? How is it caused?
And what can be done to prevent it? Cancer is an extremely complex condition that occurs in three stages called Initiation, Development and Metastasis. The Initiation stage principally involves damage to a cell's DNA which results in the production of 'mutant' proteins. This then completely alters the functioning inside the cell and causes the cell to differentiate from its surroundings and begin to multiply at a rate that cannot be controlled. A normal healthy cell is dependant on the continuous production of protein molecules for its structure,
its metabolism and its function. These proteins are produced by a process called protein synthesis in which the DNA strand unwinds and a molecule called RNA is produced with a structure that is dependant on the area of DNA that is exposed.
Specific amino acids then attach to the RNA and are 'glued' together in a long string of amino acids that becomes a protein. These proteins which could either be an enzyme, a hormone or be incorporated into the structure, are completely specific to the functioning of that cell. Therefore if these proteins were to
change, (it only takes the addition, or deletion, of one amino acid to a protein structure to completely change its function) the protein, and therefore the cell, will start to perform differently from the cells around it.
It is at this stage that cancer can be diagnosed due to the appearance of the cell itself. Most people are aware that in astrology, the star sign Cancer is represented by a Crab. This is because the word 'cancer'
is Latin for the word 'crab' and the star sign was given this name because the constellation which looks like a crab (after researching this constellation it was clear that this particular arrangement of stars had absolutely no resemblance to any aquatic life, let alone a crab!) was predominant in the sky at that time.
This is the reason why cancer is called cancer. If a cancerous cell was examined through a microscope, it would show finger-like projections coming from the body of the cell and therefore was deemed to look like a crab.
If this cell is not killed by the immune system, it will be allowed to divide and this leads to the Development stage of cancer. Normal cells possess a quality known as contact inhibition, where they will stop dividing once in contact with cells of a different tissue. This prevents our organs from enlarging out of control. However, a cancerous cell loses contact inhibition and is therefore able to continue dividing within the
organ it is enclosed in until it engulfs and destroys the organ itself. As some people may have seen, there seems to be no limit to the size a tumour can reach if it is allowed to grow.
If a tumour is allowed to grow near a major vein or artery, the third and most deadly stage of cancer can result. Metastasis occurs when cells of a tumour break away and enter the blood stream. This allows the cells to travel to other parts of the body and infect other organs and cause
what is known as 'secondary' cancer. If a cancer has been allowed to reach this stage then the likely-hood of recovery is severely reduced and is almost always fatal.
With this in mind, can cancer be prevented?
In many cases the answer to this question is, yes! To explain this fully, it will be beneficial to re-visit the different stages of cancer. The Initiation stage, as mentioned above, occurs from damage to DNA that results in abnormal protein production and abnormal cell function. However, it is the damage to DNA that initiates this cascade. Therefore, many nutritional therapies for preventing cancer are designed around the protection of the DNA strand.
DNA is mostly damaged by 'oxidants', which are highly reactive molecules that move around our bodies bumping into cell structures and taking particles called electrons. When they take these electrons they become stable and harmless but leave a damaged molecule in their wake. It is at this stage that dietary antioxidants are vital. These specialised nutrients act as kamikaze compounds that basically
commit suicide for the good of the cell. Instead of the oxidants attacking the DNA, they attack the antioxidant nutrients. This then triggers an alternative, but less reactive cascade, which is why a mixture of different antioxidants is vital.
The body has its own oxidant defence mechanism from a series of antioxidant enzymes, however considering that each and every cell (and it is believed that the human body contains between 50 and 100 trillion cells for those of you taking notes) is attacked by oxidants around 10,000 times a day as a by product of our metabolism, our own defence is already under extreme pressure. When our defences are overloaded, as is common in today's lifestyle, it is vital that sufficient dietary antioxidants are consumed.
All brightly coloured fruits and vegetables
are rich in antioxidants as they contain nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and zinc, along with bioflavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol. All of these nutrients are also available in supplement form and are useful if fresh fruits and vegetables are lacking from the diet. Many herbal supplements are also rich in antioxidants and include Green Tea and Cat's Claw.
If DNA is attacked and allowed to produce mutant proteins, the Development stage occurs. However, even if the disease progresses to this stage, the body is still able fight it by using the immune system. The human immune system has evolved in such a way that it can distinguish between foreign bodies and our own tissue. The difference can be described as 'non-self' and 'self' respectively. Therefore, anything that enters
the body, or in this case grows within the body, that our immune system does not recognise as 'self', will be attacked and in most cases, destroyed. It is thought that our immune system reacts to foreign, non-self bodies with the same ferocity as hungry Piranha fish to food.
When a cancer cell develops it is treated as non-self as it has become different from the surrounding cells within the organ and therefore is not recognised. A healthy immune system would be able to destroy this cell before it begins to divide uncontrollably. In this respect it is important that our immune system is functioning efficiently and there are a number of nutrients and phytonutrients which have been shown to boost immune activity.
The common nutrients vitamin C and zinc have been the subjects of numerous scientific studies regarding their efficacy for boosting the immune system. One such study stated that inadequate consumption of vitamin C and zinc, along with essential fatty acids, resulted in the impaired function of one of the main types of immune cells called T-Lymphocytes.
Vitamin C is abundant in most fruits and vegetables with blackcurrants and strawberries being amongst the richest of sources. Zinc is found in meat such as pork and is also plentiful in nuts, oysters and pumpkin seeds.
Herbs such as Echinacea, Goldenseal and Garlic have also been associated with increased immune function and all are available in supplements form.
Most people are aware that there is currently no cure for cancer but there is plenty that can be done to help prevent it.
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