Cancer: Can food prevent cancer?
Fiona Macdonald-Smith
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 16/06/2008

Red wine: Pinot noir is particularly rich in resveratrol, a polyphenol that protects cells from ageing
Yes, says an American doctor who has come up with a holistic plan to beat the disease. But you need to change your lifestyle, too. Fiona Macdonald-Smith reports

Here's your lunch. And indeed your supper - ideally for life. There are vegetables, some olive oil, garlic, herbs, spices and maybe some meat or eggs - but just enough for the flavour. It's not the most exciting-sounding dish but, according to a new book, it could save your life.

Dr David Servan-Schreiber, author of Anticancer: A New Way of Life, calls it "the standard plate". It's part of a range of measures - what you eat, your environment and your mental attitude - that he has compiled from the latest scientific evidence to help you beat cancer.

This is, says Servan-Schreiber, the book he wishes he had when he became ill. Fifteen years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumour - and eight years ago, having thought he had beaten the cancer, he suffered a relapse. After further successful surgery and 11 months of chemotherapy, he asked his doctor what he could do to prevent relapses. "I was stunned when he said there was nothing - they would just evaluate me regularly so if the cancer came back they could catch it early. It left me feeling utterly powerless."

A scientist himself - he is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine – he proceeded to trawl through all the available medical literature. "I discovered that there's lots you can do."

The core of Servan-Schreiber's book is the idea that you can build what he calls "an anti-cancer biology". Although everyone's body harbours defective cells, only in some of us will these go on to form tumours - in the rest of us, the body's defence mechanisms will kick in and protect us. He believes you need to strengthen your immune system's ability to fight cancer; reduce the inflammation that cancer needs to invade neighbouring tissues; and reduce the growth of new blood vessels that cancer needs to develop large tumours. The purpose of his book is to tell you what measures you can take to achieve this.

Most important, says Servan-Schreiber, you need to protect yourself against imbalances in the environment; adjust your diet to cut back on foods that promote cancer (sugar, white flour, animal fats) and eat more foods that contain phytochemical components that fight it (green tea, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables); heal the psychological wounds that aid the chemical processes that cause cancer; and stimulate your immune system.

As well as the more common-sense stuff, there are some unusual suggestions. Servan-Schreiber suggests wearing eau de toilette rather than perfume as it contains fewer potentially dangerous phthalates, which may be linked to cancer development; airing your clothes in the garden after having them dry-cleaned (to get rid of potentially carcinogenic ethylenes); even accepting your true identity, including unresolved matters surrounding your sexuality, as turbulent emotional states can inhibit the activation of immune-cell production.

But Servan-Schreiber's arguments for a holistic approach to cancer are all credible and one wonders why, if this information is available, this is the first time it has all been brought together. "If you're telling people to eat differently, exercise and manage their stress levels, there's no patent, no one's making money, so there's no incentive," he says.

He's not anti-conventional medicine, though. "It saved my life - it just doesn't help you prevent relapses. You need both approaches."
_ 'Anticancer: A New Way of Life' by Dr David Servan-Schreiber (Michael Joseph, £14.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £12.99 + £1.25 p&p. To order call 0870 428 4112 or go to

A little of what you fancy...

Red wine
The concentration of polyphenols - which combat carcinogens - is greater in wine than in grape juice.
Pinot noir is particularly rich in resveratrol, a polyphenol that protects cells from ageing.

Green tea
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), found in green tea, is a molecule that blocks the formation of the
new blood vessels needed for tumour growth.

These contain anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, molecules that force cancer cells to selfdestruct,
a process known as apoptosis.

Dark chocolate
Chocolate with more than 70 per cent cocoa is rich in antioxidants, proanthocyanidins and
polyphenols, which slow the growth of cancer cells. Avoid milk chocolate, though.

Pomegranate juice
Used in ancient Persian medicine, pomegranates are now thought to halt the growth of prostate
cancer. Drinking the juice daily slows the rate of spread by two thirds.

Seaweeds such as fucoidan and kombu, eaten in Asia, contain molecules that slow cancers of the
breast, prostate, skin and colon cancer.

Broccoli prevents pre-cancerous cells from developing
Cruciform vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choi all contain
sulforaphane and Indole-3-carbinols (I3C), powerful anti-cancer molecules that can detoxify
carcinogenic substances.

Oranges stimulate detoxification
Citrus fruits contain flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory and help the liver detoxify carcinogens. Flavonoids in tangerine skins help kill brain cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Citrus peel can be steeped in tea or hot water or grated over salads or cereal.

Aubergines reduce the spread of cancer cells
A key source of terpenes, which act on tumours by blocking the enzymes cancer cells need to invade
other tissues. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and mint are also rich in essential oils
of the terpene family.

Tofu blocks dangerous hormones
Soy isoflavones (found in tofu, tempeh, miso, mung beans and bean sprouts) are phytochemical
molecules that battle cancer. They act like tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent breast-cancer relapses.
There are far fewer breast cancer cases among Asian women who have eaten soy since adolescence.

Turmeric uniquely powerful anti-inflammatory
The principal spice in yellow curry, turmeric can inhibit cancer growth. In the lab, it combats cancers
of the colon, liver, stomach, breast and ovary, plus leukaemia. Indians, who consume turmeric
regularly, have one eighth as many lung cancers as Westerners.

Mackerel helps stop the spread of cancer cells
A key source of essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3s, which reduce cancer cell growth in tumours
(lung, breast, colon, prostate, kidney). Studies show that eating fish twice a week helps prevent
cancer. Also rich in selenium, which stimulates immune cells.

Tomatoes increase the body's capacity to attack tumour cells
Vegetables and fruits rich in carotenoids - tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, squash and apricots - contain
vitamin A and lycopene, which slows cancer growth and combats a type of brain tumour known as a
glioma. Men who eat tomato sauce twice a week may be protected against prostate cancer.

Garlic reduces carcinogenic effects
An ancient medicine, garlic is part of the alliaceous family. Their sulphur compounds reduce the
carcinogens of tobacco and over-grilled meat and fight cancers of the colon, breast, lung, kidney and
prostate, and leukaemia. Also regulates blood sugar, which helps limit cancer cells.

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