Keep the Big C at Bay
There’s little question that cancer is a frightening reality for far too many people. But as widespread and even inevitable as the dreaded disease may seem, the reality is that 90 percent to 95 percent of all diagnoses are attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors, many of which are within our control. “For a long time, people believed that if your parents had cancer, there was a good chance you would too—but there has been a huge shift in that thinking in the past decade,” says Ajay Goel, Ph.D., director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at Baylor Research Institute, Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “Your DNA is, in fact, just a small piece of the puzzle.” Indeed, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), one-third of cancers could be prevented if we all maintained a healthy weight, got regular exercise and ate a “cancer-protective diet” rich in antioxidant-loaded fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and detoxifying fiber. If everyone quit smoking, another third of cancers would disappear. Meanwhile, mounting research suggests that certain herbs and supplements may actually help fend off the abnormal cell proliferation we know as cancer—and others are believed to activate genetic pathways involved in mopping up cancer-fueling toxins and boosting immunity. Here are five worth considering:
Curcumin This yellow spice, the principal ingredient in turmeric that’s used in curry, is the rock star of cancer studies today, with researchers from the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston recently calling it “one of the most powerful and promising chemopreventive and anti-cancer agents.” In addition to being a potent antioxidant, it has been shown in laboratory studies to reactivate sleeping tumor suppressor genes (TSGs), killing off proliferating cells before they become cancerous. Hundreds of animal trials have shown oral curcumin prevents or shrinks tumors in the colon, skin, stomach, liver, lung and breast. In one trial of 44 smokers, researchers at the University of Illinois found that those given 4 grams of oral curcumin daily saw a 40 percent reduction in the number of precancerous lesions in their colons. Because it is not well absorbed (sprinkle the spice on food and you absorb just 6 percent), supplements are the way to go, says Joe Pizzorno, N.D., author of Natural Medicine for the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer (Riverhead Trade). Try: Curacel by Europharma ($20 for 30 softgels; vitacost.com). It contains the BCM-95 form of curcumin, said to be six to 10 times more bioavailable. Dose: 250 milligrams to 1 gram daily, or 2 grams to 4 grams if you are at high risk.
Green tea ECGC, a compound abundant in green tea, has also been shown to wake up sleeping TSGs, and kill off budding cancer cells. One massive study of Asian-American women found that those who drank green tea regularly had a lower risk of breast cancer. Another recent clinical trial of men showing early signs of prostate cancer found that those who took 200 milligrams of green tea supplements daily were less likely to have developed full-blown cancer after one year. Try: Drinking green tea, suggests David Leopold, M.D., an integrative medicine specialist with the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif. (There is some concern that excess ECGC supplements could harm the liver, and tea contains other beneficial compounds you don’t want to miss out on, he notes.) Dose: 4 to 6 cups daily; be sure it’s decaffeinated so you aren’t up all night.