According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), approximately 38% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. It is one of the most feared diseases in existence and drives many in search of a magic pill to prevent or delay its onset.
This quest often leads to misinformation and mass confusion as to what supplements, food or herbs have anti-cancer properties. For example, one study claims eating garlic will prevent the disease, yet another says consuming mushrooms is the cancer prevention miracle. Although there’s no argument these foods make fabulous ingredients for an Italian Sunday dinner, do they really prevent or slow the growth of cancer?
Currently one of the most discussed vitamins in science, vitamin D deficiencies are implicated in a host of maladies, from spinal disc degeneration to cardiovascular disease, and studies suggest that supplementing with the sunshine vitamin may lower the risk of certain types of cancer. The NCI says although research in mice indicates vitamin D may slow or prevent the growth or development of cancer, the results so far have been inconsistent.
This coffee alternative is commonly promoted as an anti-cancer drink, and this claim seems to have some scientific evidence backing it up. According to a February 2018 review in the journal, Molecules and Cells, drinking green tea may help prevent cancer, or delay its onset, and help stop this dreaded disease from reoccurring or metastasizing. The active components in green tea thought to be responsible for its anti-cancer benefits are polyphenols, and the very potent antioxidant, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG.) However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health isn’t ready to jump onto the green tea bandwagon just yet, as their reviews of research show too many inconsistent results.
This flavorful plant closely related to onions is a household staple for cooking with some surprisingly beneficial health effects. Compounds in garlic are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and may also help fight against cancer.
According to a 2018 study published in the journal, Nutrients, researchers found homemade garlic extract had anti-cancer activities in both laboratory and human studies and this activity was stable for more than six months if the extract was stored in a freezer. The scientists also noted that some studies suggest garlic extract may increase the activity of some chemotherapy drugs and recommend anyone undergoing cancer treatment should talk to their doctor before including it in their supplement regimen.
Turmeric, comprised of a compound called curcumin, is showing great potential to prevent the transformation of healthy cells into cancer cells, cancer cell proliferation and tumor invasion. In a November 2016 review in the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers state, “curcumin significantly inhibits metastasis in various types of cancers by regulating different signaling pathways, and has also shown to inhibit the activation of p65 in estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer cells and in prostate cancer cells.” They go on to say further research should investigate modifying curcumin so it can attach to specific cancer cells, potentially becoming a targeted treatment.
This lowly “fungus among us” might just be the magic pill we are searching for to prevent or help in the treatment of cancer. According to the NCI, medicinal mushrooms have been used as an addition to standard cancer treatments in Japan and China for more than 30 years. In these countries, mushrooms have been used safely for a long time, either alone or combined with radiation or chemotherapy.
According to the Institute’s review on medicinal mushrooms, although there are more than 100 types of these fungi used to treat cancer, some of the more common varieties are reishi, turkey tail, shiitake and maitake. In their review of research, medicinal mushrooms used alone or in combination with cancer treatment drugs showed a significant survival rate improvement in those with gastric cancers such as colorectal cancer, as well as in patients with lung or breast cancer.
The chaga mushroom, which is found growing on birch trees in colder regions of the world like Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States (including Wisconsin) and Canada, is another potential cancer crushing fungus species. In a 2016 study published in the journal, Heliyon, the extract of chaga mushrooms was shown to have significant tumor-suppressive effects. Researchers reported that when the extract of this mushroom was given to tumor-bearing mice, “a 60% tumor reduction was observed, while in metastatic mice, the number of nodules decreased by 25% compared to the control group.” Investigators concluded, “the results of this study indicate that daily intake of the I. obliquus extract (chaga) has anti-cancer effects.”
In the quest to prevent or treat cancer, there may not be a magic pill or a miracle food that gives 100% results. However, researchers are beginning to find elements in nature with the potential anti-cancer benefits we are looking for, that could at least up the odds in our favor.
Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected]