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Healthy Diet, aging, anti-oxidants, Cancer, and Telomeres

28 Jul

This blog is about the very important topic of Healthy diet and our health. As you will read much of our health is determined by our diet and lifestyle. As with all research over time some research becomes outdated and new information is accepted. So this blog was for me an interest to find and share some of the best information at the time on diet, nutrition and health. Please use this information as a springboard for thinking and finding up to date information in these areas. Best health to you!

‘Priority to non-poisonous rather than nutritious foods.’ “It takes months to build and only a minute to break down. How strange!” I heard a carpenter talk thus to himself while wiping his brow. No matter how careful you are about your nutrition, if your care does not include the condition “Never take poison”, your dietetics can crumble from the foundation at any time. Preservatives, anti-drying chemicals, artificial coloring, insecticides, weed killers, artificial flavoring, (etc, etc, etc) – are all dangerous. Kanjitsu Iijima

And our sense of the word (healthy) stands in need of some broadening. When most of us think about food and health, we think in fairly narrow nutritionist terms – about our personal physical health and how ingestion of this particular nutrient or rejection of that affects us. But I no longer think it’s possible to separate our bodily health from the health of the environment in which we eat or, for that matter, from the health of our general outlook about food (and health). If my explorations of the food chain have taught me anything, it’s that it is a food chain, and all the links in it are in fact linked: the health of the soil to the health of the plants and animals we eat to the health of the food culture in which we eat them to the health of the eater, in body as well as mind. … Food consists not just in piles of chemicals; it also comprises a set of social and ecological relationships, reaching back to the land and outward to other people. Michael Pollan

Meat offers a good proof of the proposition that the healthfulness of a food cannot be divorced from the health of the food chain that produced it – that the health of soil, plant, animal, and eater are all connected, for better or worse. … The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts. … In recent years a less reductive method of doing nutritional science has emerged, based on the idea of studying whole dietary patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients. The early results have tended to support the idea that traditional diets do indeed protect us from chronic disease and that these diets can be transferred from one place and population to another. … Such an approach can take into account complicated interactions among nutrients and non-nutrient substances in studies of free-living people. Michael Pollan


Inside the center or nucleus of a cell, our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.

Like the rest of a chromosome and its genes, telomeres are sequences of DNA – chains of chemical code. Like other DNA, they are made of four nucleic acid bases: G for guanine, A for adenine, T for thymine and C for cytosine.

Without telomeres, the main part of the chromosome – the part containing genes essential for life – would get shorter each time a cell divides. So telomeres allow cells to divide without losing genes. Cell division is needed so we can grow new skin, blood, bone and other cells when needed. Without telomeres, chromosome ends could fuse together and degrade the cell’s genetic blueprint, making the cell malfunction, become cancerous or die.

Geneticist Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

When telomere length, chronological age and gender are combined (women live longer than men), those factors account for 37 percent of the variation in the risk of dying over age 60. So what causes the other 63 percent? A major cause of aging is “oxidative stress.” It is the damage to DNA, proteins and lipids (fatty substances) caused by oxidants, which are highly reactive substances containing oxygen. These oxidants are produced normally when we breathe, and also result from inflammation, infection and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

Another factor in aging is “glycation.” It happens when glucose sugar from what we eat binds to some of our DNA, proteins and lipids, leaving them unable to do their jobs. The problem becomes worse as we get older, causing body tissues to malfunction, resulting in disease and death. This may explain why studies in various laboratory animals indicate that restricting calorie intake extends lifespan. Author: Lee J. Siegel (I reduced article for blog) What is Glycation? Glycation is a process by which proteins, certain fats, and glucose tangle together. It affects all body tissues, and tends to make them stiff and inflexible. Glycation causes most problems for organs where flexibility is most important, such as the heart, kidneys, skin and eyes. Once it has become glycated, the tissues start to produce ‘glycotoxins’, such as Advanced Glycation End-products – or AGEs, which are damaging to our cells. AGEs do this in two ways, both of which promote aging: they produce free radicals, and increase inflammation.

Glycation, and the glycotoxins caused by it, are a major cause of the horrible side-effects of being diabetic – higher levels of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease and eye problems. Happily, though not widely known, these conditions can be partly or fully controlled, as discussed below.

Glycation is particularly relevant to diabetics as it is more likely because of the raised blood sugar which is a feature of diabetes.

Treatment of Glycation Treatment of glycation is through 3 routes: 1. Avoiding certain foods, 2. Keep blood sugar levels low, and 3. Supplementation.

  1. It is the preparation of food which is important when seeking to avoid glycation. Specifically, high temperature cooking must be avoided. Frying, grilling and roasting all produce glycation and ‘glycotoxins’.

Much manufactured food will have been prepared using high temperature processes. Junk food can be a nightmare of glycation! Food should be chosen which is which is raw, steamed, stewed or poached. A slow cooker is very useful to prepare meat, fish or vegetarian meals easily, conveniently – safely.

  1. A healthy blood sugar range is below 100mg/dL. Above this level, glycation occurs much more readily. This level can be checked with a ‘fasting blood test’; ie you don’t eat for a length of time, then blood is taken for analysis. If blood sugar is higher than 100mg/dL, action can be taken to reduce blood sugar. This can quickly be achieved by dramatically reducing starchy food in the diet, and replacing it with extra vegetables, salads and protein.

The starchy foods to cut out or reduce dramatically are; sugar itself, potatoes, and grains and grain products including bread, pastries and pasta. Fruit juice and cooked fruit should be reduced or cut out because its sugar quickly passes into the blood; but moderate amounts of whole fruit are fine as they contain abundant nutrients and their sugar is absorbed more slowly thanks to the fibre content of the fruit. Poaching, stewing, slow cooking is best.

Scientific American had a story about boosting telomerase through diet, exercise and stress reduction. Specifically, he (Ornish et al.)found that telomerase was boosted by 30 percent in prostate cancer patients who followed a plant-based, whole-grain diet with very little fat or sugar for three months. The men also took fish oil supplements, did daily 30-minute bouts of exercise, and practiced yoga or meditation for an hour a day. “Telomerase turns up those genes associated with disease prevention and turns down the genes associated with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” explains Ornish. Just an ounce. The “pound of cure” lifestyle approach examined in his study may not be necessary for healthier folks, he says. They may need only an ounce of prevention to maintain their telomerase levels: switching from regular to nonfat dairy products; adding two or three servings of fruits and vegetables to their diet, for example; or doing just a few minutes of daily meditation.  2009 It turns out that most of our DNA is the software involved in determining how and when 30,000 genes are expressed. Regulation of this expression can be affected by environmental, nutritional, and other factors. These changes to the genome by external factors, called epigenetic changes, can have significant effects on a wide variety of molecular processes. For example, one of the most important nutritional factors modulating gene expression is folic acid: a lack of folic acid has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Folic acid, which is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and green lettuce, participates in a pathway leading to the stabilization of DNA.

Research has shown convincing evidence that dietary patterns practiced during adulthood are important contributors to age-related cognitive decline and dementia risk. An article published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences highlights information on the benefits of diets high in fruit, vegetables, cereals and fish and low in saturated fats in reducing dementia risk.

The mere existence of these and other epigenetic changes demonstrates that your DNA is not set in stone. It is a living part of the cells in your body and its software code can be influenced by nutritional and environmental factors.

Early bacteria living in Earth’s oxygen-poor atmosphere learned to extract energy from the sun that only 30% of processes normally associated with aging are dictated by genes, while 70% are under your personal control  through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle behaviors. by combining the energy with carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ocean, they were able to form the glucose they needed for their cells to function. This process, known as photosynthesis, gave these bacteria a huge advantage over competing species, but created a problem: the oxygen they produced as a byproduct of this chemical reaction threatened to destroy them through oxidation of their DNA. So, they developed specialized antioxidants called phytochemicals, which have properties that enable them to absorb the extra electrons found on oxidized chemicals and oxygen radicals. Phytochemicals are truly sponges for oxygen radicals.

In the human body, different types of antioxidants are found in specific locations where they can be most effective. For example, some act only in the oily environment of fat cells while others act in the liquid, water-like environment of muscle cells. This latter adaptation is particularly important, as the primary energy producers within muscle cells, the mitochondria, also leak oxygen radicals in oxygen-poor environments. The ability of antioxidants to mop up these radicals enables them to play an important role in the fight against cell damage and the development of cancer. This is where exercise can be particularly useful exercise increases the levels of many antioxidants in the muscles, thus reducing the levels of dangerous free radicals.

The Color System of Antioxidants

The different types of antioxidants can, for the most part, be grouped by color. For example, the antioxidants found in red tomatoes are identical to those found in red watermelon or pink grapefruit. Although the system is by no means perfect, organizing phytochemicals by color is an easy way to help you differentiate between the different types of antioxidants and learn how to get a variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants into your diet.

The red group, including tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon, contain lycopene, one of the most well-studied antioxidants in the fight against prostate cancer. Population-based studies that were conducted when prostate cancer was diagnosed at more advanced stages clearly demonstrated that increased blood levels of lycopene and increased intake of lycopene-containing foods were associated with a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. In recent years, as the population of prostate cancer patients has shifted to the identification of cancers at earlier stages, and as the population of patients has changed, some of these associations can no longer be demonstrated.

There are several short-term studies in which tomato paste or lycopene supplements were given to men prior to prostatectomy. Lycopene was identified in the prostate tissue after surgery and there were changes in prostate cells suggesting benefit. Multiple animal studies have also demonstrated the ability of lycopene to reduce tumor growth as well. It is also clear from multiple studies that the benefits of lycopene are more readily available when absorbed from cooked tomato products and juices than from whole tomatoes. In fact, more than 80% of the lycopene in the American diet comes from cooked tomato-based products such as pasta sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice, and ketchup.

Ultimately, studies focused on the ability of lycopene to prevent the initiation and progression of prostate cancer have not yet established definitively the benefits of increasing the intake of lycopene-containing foods or supplements. More research is needed to clarify the potential benefit of this nutritional component.

Importantly, some animal studies have shown minimal or no benefit to lycopene alone for slowing prostate cancer growth, while whole tomato extracts have been shown to slow tumor growth. Thus, the benefits to the red group are likely due to more than just lycopene, and simply taking a lycopene supplement will not confer the same benefit as eating whole fruits and vegetables. Again, this is a simple reminder that there are no shortcuts to a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The red/purple group, including pomegranates, grapes, plums, and assorted berries, all contain anthocyanins, which accounts for the color of the group. However, different berries in this group have unique properties. For example, pomegranates have ellagitannins, which inhibit inflammation and may have benefits for heart health, cancer prevention, and dementia, while cranberries have proanthocyanidins, which target a bacteria common in urinary tract infections. The full benefits of blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are still being studied, but they all have antioxidant power and work together with the other red/purple berries.

The orange group, including carrots, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupes, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, contain alpha and beta carotenes. Beta-carotene, the more well-studied of the two, is converted by the body into vitamin A, which is important for vision, and works together with the red, green, and yellow/green antioxidants. Note that carrots provide about half the alpha and beta carotene in the average American diet, with significant contributions from tomato-based products.

The orange/yellow group, including oranges, peaches, papaya, and nectarines, contain betacryptoxanthin, a minor carotenoid that accounts for only a minute amount of the daily intake of all carotenoids by the average American. About 87% of cryptoxanthin comes from orange juice, oranges, and tangerines. However, one must be cautious about relying on processed juices as some of the nutrients are removed during production and high amounts of sugars are often added.

The yellow/green group, including spinach, collard, yellow corn, green peas, avocado, and honeydew melon, contain lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids concentrate in the eye and contribute to eye health. Lower intakes have been associated with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the primary preventable cause of blindness in America.


The green group, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and kale, contain sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and indoles. These compounds stimulate genes in the liver to produce enzymes that break down carcinogens, including those that are produced when overcooking and/or charbroiling meats.

The white/green group, including garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, shallots, and chives, contain allyl sulfides, which activate an antioxidant response in cells.

Plant foods that don’t fit into the color system can also have unique benefits. For example, celery has salicylic acid, which is closely related to the active ingredient in aspirin and has been used for centuries to relieve headaches. Mushrooms are a complex group of plant foods with possible effects on the immune system at the level of the intestines.

Also, keep in mind that because the color of the fruit or vegetable is tied to its chemical properties, foods with deeper, richer colors are typically more nutritious. Compare, for example, a regular store-bought tomato with one bought from a local farm. To be able to ship a firm tomato by truck, the tomato is picked while it is still green and is rapidly ripened by being blasted with ethylene gas, a substance normally produced by the plant as a signal to ripen. While ripening, the family of lycopene compounds accumulates, especially in response to heat and light. However, once ripening stops, the accumulation of lycopene stops. Because the ripening process is stilted, the color of the typical store-bought tomato is often somewhat washed out. By contrast, the tomato that ripens naturally on the vine at the local farm is typically deeper in color and richer in taste and thus more nutritious.

Incorporating a variety of both colorful and colorless phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables can help to maximize intake of key chemical elements required to maintain healthy tissues and reduce the risk of disease.

How can this cause cancer? Well, if a tumor suppressor gene is abnormally turned off, or an oncogene is turned on, then cancer (carcinogenesis) can occur. One key is a chemical change to the DNA called methylation. First, we need to define the process to make it clearer. Abnormal methylation in cancer has been known for 20 years. Hypo-methylated areas turn on normally silent areas such as virally inserted genes or inactive X-linked genes. Hyper-methylated areas silence tumor suppresser genes.

We know that cancers have abnormal levels of methylation and we know foods can help prevent cancers. Is there a link between foods and epigenetics? Yes! The study of food nutrients and their effect on disease through epigenetics is known as nutrigenomics. Epidemiologic studies suggest there are bad foods and good foods. BAD: red meat, processed meat, grilled meat, dairy, animal fat, partially hydrogenated fats. Good: Fish, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains. Foods with epigenetic effects include green tea, cruciferous vegetables, and grapes. Usually we hear about antioxidants and foods. Antioxidants are important but there are beneficial substances in foods called polyphenols which can affect genes. Of the polyphenols, different forms exist but flavonoids are the most highly cited for health benefits and are found in a variety of vegetables and fruits. Types of flavonoids include flavanols in tea, isothiocyanate in cruciferous vegetables, anthocyanidins in grapes and berries, flavonone in citrus fruits, flavonols in onions, isoflavones (genistein) in soy.

These findings demonstrate that a good diet is the most powerful weapon we have against disease and sickness…. In fact, dietary protein proved to be so powerful in its effect that we could turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by changing the level consumed… These findings show that heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a healthy diet. Other research shows that various cancers, auto immune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision and brain disorders in old age(like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s) are convincingly influenced by diet. The diet that has time and again been shown to reverse and/or prevent these disorders is a whole foods, plants-based diet. …We now have a deep and broad range of evidence showing that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the best to reverse and/or prevent these disorders…..The most promising preventions and treatments have now been shown to be diet and lifestyle changes, a constitutional approach to health. T. Colin Campbell The most impressive evidence favoring plant-based diets is the way that so many food factors and biological events are integrated to maximize health and minimize disease. Although the biological processes are exceptionally complex, these factors still work together as a beautifully choreographed, self-correcting network. It is exceptionally impressive, especially the coordination and control of this network. T. Colin Campbell  All tea contains polyphenols, but the highest levels are in green and white tea. Green tea has been well studied and appears to have anti-cancer benefits. In China, green tea drinkers are 50% less likely to develop gastric or esophageal cancer (Carcin 2002; 23 (9): 1497), and 2 cups daily added to topical tea extract reversed oral leukoplakia (J. Nutri Biochem 2001; 12 (7): 404).

Green tea has powerful antioxidant effects but it also helps to balance normal methylation in DNA. In fact, one study in esophageal cancer cells demonstrated that EGCG from green tea is able to turn on tumor suppressor genes that had been chemically silenced by methylation (Cancer Research 2003;63:7563).

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Bok choi and their anti-cancer effects have been demonstrated in epidemiologic studies. These powerful vegetables not only induce enzymes that break down carcinogens but they also inhibit DNA methylation allowing tumor suppressor genes to thrive. Inhibiting abnormal methylation also helps cruciferous vegetables to inhibit the cancer causing action of tobacco smoke by preventing the formation of nitrosamine-DNA adducts.

Grapes, which contain resveratrol, are excellent for heart health and they have anti-cancer activity. Grapes work by preventing the formation or initiation and promotion of cancers. They don’t have methylation actions as discussed above but they work by modulation histones.

Histones are the chief protein component of the DNA chain (chromatin). They act as spools for the DNA to wind around which then shortens the length of the DNA to 30,000 times shorter than an unwrapped strand. This process not only allows the long DNA chain to fit into a cell but also plays a role in gene expression because how the genes are wound affects which are exposed and available for turning on or off. Rolling the spool a different way would expose other genes and change their expression.

Histones are modified after translation by acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation, ubiquitination. The changes occur at lysine residues (except for phosphorylation of serine or threonine). When the histone is acetylated the charge is changed and the histone loosens its grip on the DNA strand and the DNA unwinds, exposing the genes to be transcribed, or repaired.

When histone tails (H3,H4) are acetylated, genes are transcribed, when they are deacetylated, genes are turned off. Histone deacetylases work to maintain deacetylated sites.

Resveratrol, found in grapes, activates Sirtuins; SirT1 (Sir2 proteins). There are at least 7 Sir2-like proteins and they are histone deacetylators. Sirtuins are induced in animals during starvation states. They seem to have a life preservation effect. Interestingly, when an animal is starved, it can live longer. When the calorie intake of rodents was decreased by 40% in rodents, they actually lived 50% longer and appear to have fewer chronic diseases. The same benefit occurs when rodents when they are given resveratrol in their diet.

Resveratrol deacetylates histones causing tighter packing of the chromatin and a lower level of transcription of DNA. This silencing of the DNA is thought to be the mechanism of life prolongation, heart health, and its beneficial actions to prevent cancers. This is why grapes or red wine is beneficial to your health. How much red wine should you drink? No one knows for sure, but any beneficial effects might be negated after two glasses a day because of the alcohol. I wouldn’t advise drinking more than this until more is known. The data is very promising, but more research is needed.

The foods that we put into our bodies on a daily basis, whether it is fast food, raw foods or organic foods, have an effect on us. For instance, did you know there are foods that prevent cancer? You read right, these same foods can also help prevent other chronic diseases as well. In this article we will explore 3 green giants in the food world that can help prevent disease.

1 – Broccoli

The first green giant of foods that prevent cancer is broccoli. According to an article by J. Cohen published by the National Cancer Institute in 1992, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University announced the discovery of a compound found in broccoli that prevented the further development of tumors by 60% in participants as well as reduced the size of existing tumors by 75%. Broccoli also contains Vitamin C, Fiber, Calcium, Vitamin K, Beta-Carotene and much more, it is also a great source of iron for those that do not eat meat.

Broccoli also contains sulforaphane which scientific studies have shown to be effective against a specific bacterium that is a common cause of gastric ulcers and gastric cancer. Smokers under the age of 65 are encouraged to indulge in a cup of broccoli a day as studies have shown it to help battle colon cancer cells as well.

2 – Spinach

The second green giant of foods that prevent cancer is spinach. Spinach is a powerful food. It contains Vitamins C and E, Beta-Carotene, B vitamins, Calcium, iron and many more natural minerals and nutrients.

Spinach has been shown to help protect the eyes from age-related degeneration. Spinach, as well as other green vegetables, is high in potassium and low in sodium. Along with the mixture of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and other minerals, spinach is great for lowering your blood pressure.

3 – Wheatgrass

The second green giant and perhaps most powerful of foods that prevent cancer is wheatgrass. Wheat Grass is one of the most beneficial complete foods there is. It is very high in chlorophyll and provides natural detoxification. The chlorophyll found in a liquid ounce of wheat grass and other leafy greens not only cleanses and builds blood, but research now shows that it may also assist in offsetting the adverse effects of radiation. Wheatgrass is one molecule away from hemoglobin in the human blood so it is the closet we can come to a blood transfusion without actually getting a blood transfusion. Now that is a powerful food!

Wheatgrass is high in oxygen like all green plants as it contains chlorophyll. The brain and other tissue in the body function at an optimal level in a highly-oxygenated environment. Science has proven that chlorophyll stops growth and development of unfriendly bacteria and can assist in increasing low red cell count. It is so nutritionally condensed that 15 pounds of Wheat Grass is the equivalent of 350 pounds of carrot, lettuce, celery, and other juices.

The above 3 types of food are just a few of the green giants in foods that prevent cancer and there are many others. Remember, the foods — good and bad – that we put into our bodies affect us. Make the right choice.

There are many contributing factors in the causes of cancer such as diet, lifestyle, stress, toxicity and more. Eating good amounts of the above is a great way to improve your overall health and immune system, but it is important that you look into the other factors as well.

The National Cancer Society has estimated that nearly one in three cancer deaths are actually diet related. Those are astonishing statistics considering that means we may actually be able to prevent cancer with our diet choices, or cause it.

Research has shown that certain foods actually contribute to the growth of cancer while others help to lessen the risk. The dietary choices we make today affect us for the rest of our lives.