A variety of different nutrients are crucial for your body to fight cancer, but the problem is that the North American diet too often lacks what we need to stay in top health. “It’s the first time in history that we have calorie malnutrition,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers in Kona, Hawaii, and a specialist in natural remedies. That means calories aren’t in short supply, but nutrients can be. You can fill in the gaps with dietary supplements.
Studies have found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D have significantly lower rates of breast, ovarian, renal, colon, pancreatic, aggressive prostate, and other cancers. Researchers have even predicted that raising vitamin D levels in the United States and Canada would prevent 58,000 people from getting breast cancer and 49,000 from getting colorectal cancer. However, Americans are woefully short on this essential nutrient. We get more than 90 per cent of vitamin D from sunshine, but people are avoiding the sun for fear of getting skin cancer, Dr. Teitelbaum says. “Avoid sunburn, not sunshine,” he says. And take a vitamin D nutritional supplement. He recommends that everyone take 1,000 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D a day, which you can find in a good multivitamin.
Curcumin has killed cancer cells in the laboratory, shrunk tumors in animals, and helped prevent several forms of cancer from developing in animal studies. “Curcumin is a pretty remarkable herb,” Teitelbaum says. There are more than 1,000 studies showing that it’s effective for cancer, he says. But if you’re not eating foods made with curry every day (because curcumin is derived from turmeric), you’re probably not getting enough for cancer protection, he says. Should everyone take a dietary supplement? It’s probably only necessary if you have a strong family history of cancer, Teitelbaum says. Be sure to find a supplement specifically designed for easy absorption, such as the product Curamin.
Some research has shown that B vitamins, including folic acid (vitamin B9), can lower the risk for some cancers, but the research hasn’t been conclusive. Observational studies have found that people who get more folic acid may be less likely to get colon cancer, especially compared to people who are deficient in folic acid, and that getting vitamin B6 may lower the likelihood of getting colorectal cancer. But researchers haven’t done large clinical trials on these vitamins. The best option is to choose a good multivitamin that includes B vitamins rather than individual supplements.
Studies done in the laboratory suggest that some compounds in antioxidant-rich green tea may help stop cancer cells from growing by cutting off their blood supply. One study from China found that people who drank green tea and did not smoke had a lower risk of getting esophageal cancer than those who didn’t drink green tea, but the results from other studies have been mixed. “It’s not the first place I reach to in terms of anti-cancer effect,” Teitelbaum says. But there are other reasons to sip: It lowers anxiety and heart attack risk, he says.
In areas of the world where the soil has high levels of selenium, there are significantly fewer deaths from cancer, including lung, breast, colon, ovarian, cervical, bladder, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers. However, clinical trials that have looked at selenium’s role in cancer prevention have been mixed. Because your body only needs a small amount of this mineral, the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables rather than taking selenium in nutritional supplements. You can get selenium from Brazil nuts, seafood, whole grains, cereal, meat and poultry, kidney, and liver.
Eating garlic may lower your risk for breast, colon, esophageal, pancreatic, and stomach cancers, according to preliminary studies. When researchers looked at the results of seven population studies, they found that those with higher amounts of garlic in their diet had lower risk for stomach and colorectal cancer. But the results of clinical trials have been mixed, and researchers don’t know how much garlic you may need for protection. The World Health Organization recommends that people get about a clove of garlic a day in their diet.
Truth be told, fish oil’s strength is not cancer prevention, Teitelbaum says. Some research has shown that women who eat fish twice a week have a lower risk for endometrial cancer, but in general the research looking at cancer protection hasn’t shown much of a link. However, fish oil can do so much for your health, including helping to prevent heart disease or stroke and lowering rates of depression. There’s good reason to focus on getting fish in your diet and consider taking fish oil nutritional supplements.
Animal studies have suggested that vitamin A (which includes beta carotene) could shrink tumors, slow down the growth of tumors, and enhance cancer treatments. However, getting too much beta carotene or vitamin A can be toxic. When smokers took vitamin A dietary supplements, their risk of dying from lung cancer and heart disease increased. If you take a high dose of beta carotene, you can cause relative deficiency of other nutrients in the body, Teitelbaum says. For that reason, don’t get more than 5,000 international units of beta carotene a day.