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Antioxidants, Diet and Cancer

© Lauri M. Aesoph ND

Cancer is on the rise. In 1988, the Surgeon General estimated that an American born in 1985 has a 30 percent chance of dying from this disease. This figure doesn't take into account the individuals who will get cancer and survive. Cancer is a slowing growing disease (actually group of diseases) egged on by the cumulative effects of cancer promoting substances and activities. At least 80 percent of cancers are caused by lifestyle habits, including diet. Fortunately, diet, especially one rich in antioxidants, can protect you against cancer.

In the fall of 1989, a group of scientists from around the world met in London to talk about antioxidants. Everyday, normal metabolic processes as well as environmental pollutants, tobacco smoke, and rancid fats create highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals damage cells and may impede health. During their three day meeting, researchers reviewed the evidence and discovered that antioxidants reduce free radical damage and possibly cancer.

Antioxidants come in a variety of forms. Plants are a plentiful and powerful source of antioxidants in part because these botanicals often have an affinity for particular organs. For example, the antioxidant acting flavonoids in milk thistle target the liver. Those in ginkgo are attracted to the central nervous system, including the brain. Probably the most well known plant antioxidants are carotenoids, the yellow pigment found in many fruits and vegetables.

In addition, antioxidants can include vitamins such as C, E, and A, and minerals like selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Here are some of the findings from the London conference on a fraction of the antioxidants available to us.

Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
The echo of motherly advice, "eat your vegetables", is now being heard in scientific laboratories. In a paper presented by the National Cancer Institute, Regina Ziegler reviewed the relationship between vegetable, fruit and carotenoid intake, and cancer rates. Of the many hundreds of carotenoids found in our food--primarily fruits and vegetables--many are antioxidants. Beta-carotene is the most abundant and well known carotenoid.

Ziegler found a definite link between fruits and vegetables in the diet, and cancer. The strongest relationship was for lung cancer, although cancer of the stomach, cervix, neck, breast, and bladder were also reported. However, some of the studies Ziegler analyzed lasted for only five years. Considering that cancer may take 20 or more years to develop, the association between vegetables and cancer may be even stronger. Ziegler also admits that when you eat your fruit and vegetables, fiber and other antioxidants such as vitamin C may also protect against cancer.

Although we don't know all the ins and outs of the vegetable-cancer connection, there is, without a doubt, a benefit. It is sad that most Americans neglect this portion of their diet. The Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that only 10 percent of the 12,000 adults it surveyed ate the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Remission with Beta-Carotene
One-quarter of the world's population chews some type of drug-like plant whether it be tobacco, a tobacco mixture, betel leaves or coca leaves. While tobacco is the main cause of mouth cancer, other chewing substances may also contribute to this condition.

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