5 Super Foods for Preventing Cancer

Katherine Chavez (Lik), ND



An all too common disease in the United States, cancer affects more than 40 percent of us. One-third of these cancers are related to diet and lifestyle choices, so using thought and discipline to choose foods that have anti-cancer effects can deter our risk of developing cancer. Fortunately, the foods that are best studied to prevent cancer are some of the most delicious foods around.


1. Salmon


I wasn't much of a fish eater as a child. When I moved out to the Pacific Northwest at age 20, that changed. Rich in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D, salmon is a part of life in that part of the country, and I quickly made it a part of my life.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Besides reducing the mortality from prostate cancer by 63 percent, omega 3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) lower the risk of many cancers, including:

    • breast
    • endometrial
    • esophageal
    • colon
    • rectal
    • squamous cell cancers of the head, neck, skin


EPA and DHA interfere with cancer by reducing: inflammation and epigenetic abnormalities, proliferation and survival of cancer cells, cancer cell ability to attract blood vessel growth, and the spread of cancer cells (metastasis). Studies show they have improved the effects of anticancer drugs by increasing the effectiveness of radiation therapy while reducing side effects. The benefits don't end there: Omega 3 fatty acids reduce length of hospital stays after surgery, and have reduced muscle wasting in patients with advanced cancers.


Cold water fish are richest in EPA and DHA. Besides salmon, anchovies, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacoretuna are also good options. Farm-raised fish do not normally have as much omega 3 fatty acids as they do not eat the same diet or swim in as cold of water as their wild counter parts.

  • Vitamin D

Salmon is one of the richest sources of vitamin D in our food supply. The vitamin is great for preventing cancer or increasing survival rates in patients with lung, colon, and prostate cancer. However, half of Americans are deficient in vitamin D (because our primary source of it is from the sun, and we spend most time indoors). Low vitamin D levels are associated with many cancers including lung, breast, pancreas, colon, rectal, prostate, ovarian, endometrium, renal. Researchers have even predicted that raising vitamin D levels would prevent 58,000 people from getting breast cancer and 49,000 from getting colorectal cancer in the United States and Canada.


2. Tumeric


Rich in a compound called curcumin, this delicious yellow seasoning is arguably the best studied anticancer natural compound, at the center of more than 1,000 studies. It has been shown to reduce the risk of breast, colon, stomach, liver, lung, and skin cancers. Curcumin destroys cancer cells through more than 100 identified biochemical pathways. It promotes healthy cells by reducing inflammation, reducing tumor cell proliferation, causing cancer cell self-destruction (apoptosis), and reducing new blood supply to tumors.


Curcumin is also beneficial in patients with cancer. It helps several chemotherapy agents and radiation therapies work better, and especially shines in treating cancers resistant to chemotherapy. It can help sensitize cancer cells to many chemotherapy agents if patients become resistant.


3. Flax


One of the first agriculture products that humans grew, flax remains one of the world's most nutritious foods-rich in fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and plant lignans. Fiber, especially soluble fiber found in ground flax seeds, can help increase the bulk of stool and feed healthy bacteria in the colon, reducing constipation. Healthy bacteria in the colon also produce short chain fatty acids by metabolizing fiber. Short chain fatty acids nourish colon cells, helping to prevent the development of colon cancer.


Soluble fiber also functions to bind to compounds that the liver excretes into the digestive tract, such as estrogen and testosterone. When soluble fiber binds these compounds, they are then excreted in stool rather than reabsorbed into the blood stream, where they would stimulate estrogen receptors on breast and uterine cells and testosterone receptors on prostate cancer cells. Dietary fiber also increases satiety, which can decrease weight. Obesity is associated with many cancers including breast cancer.


4. Green tea


Known to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, (breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, liver, colon, rectal, ovarian, prostate, bladder, and skin cancer), green tea is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called catechins. Catechins prevent cancer by keeping free radicals from damaging cells, repairing oxidative damage to cells, and by preventing new blood supply to the cancer cells. Black and decaffeinated teas also contain catechins but many are destroyed in the production process. Green tea has about three times more catechins than black tea.


5. Cruciferous vegetables


This vegetable family includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, watercress, bok choi, collards, kohlrabi, mustard, turnips, radish, arugula, and broccoli. Eating these foods regularly results in lower rates of breast, lung, stomach, liver, colon, rectal, endometrial, cervical, prostate and bladder cancers. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in many cancer-preventing nutrients: fiber, folate, selenium, glucosinolates, sulforaphane, lutein, zeaxanthin.


Folate decreases risk of pancreatic cancer. Selenium can reduce risk of lung, colorectal, and prostate cancer in people who have low selenium levels by causing cancer cells to kill themselves (apoptosis), prevents cancer cell division, and creates oxidative damage in cancer cells.
Glucosinolates form compounds that can prevent and reverse breast, colon, liver, endometrial, cervical, and prostate cancer through multiple pathways. They prevent cancer cells from dividing and cause cancer cells to kill themselves. Indoles also make breast cancer cells less sensitive to stimulation from estrogen.


Sulforaphane upregulates phase-II liver detoxification pathways, helping the body detoxify and excrete toxins, and excess estrogen and testosterone. It also helps to down regulate testosterone receptors to reduce prostate cancer cells sensitivity to testosterone.


The betacarotenes lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent breast, lung, colon, and skin cancer.


Integrative medicine is about seeing every person fully – recognizing that good healthcare attends to and nurtures body, mind, and spirit.