Current Research in Superfoods and Cancer

by on 08/05/2013

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Stories about foods and drinks that contribute to or prevent cancer abound in the media. On an almost daily basis, we hear varying reports that eating enough of one thing can significantly decrease your risk of developing a range of cancers, or that just a small amount of something else can greatly worsen your odds. Tentative studies are often cited by the papers as though they were definitive proof, and we rarely see news items revisiting those studies as scientists attempt to replicate and corroborate previous findings.

To try and clear up some of the confusion and conflicting reports, we’ve collected information on some recent studies below to see just what the current research indicates.

Proven Superfoods

Of all the contenders out there, garlic may be the only one that definitely reduces cancer risk. Specifically, it protects the colon, bowel and oesophagus – the only kicker is the amount it would take. Studies in the 1990s drily noted you would have to eat your own weight in garlic every day to notice any benefit – by which point you’d be suffering the extreme ill-effects of an all-garlic diet anyway. However, recent research has suggested maybe as little as one and a half cloves a day might do the trick – although it has yet to be proven (and may indeed be impossible to do so). The catch: those cloves should be consumed raw, an unpleasant prospect at the best of times.

Likely Superfoods

While garlic may be the prime suspect for cutting cancer rates, there are plenty of other foodstuffs that have been noted to work on rats, or for which there is some good theoretical knowledge backing up the idea. For example, slow-cooked tomato has been shown to slow and even kill prostate cancer cells in lab experiments. This is mainly thanks to the nutrient lycopene – present in all red fruit and veg – leading to the prospect of red peppers and even chillies cutting cancer risk. Another likely contender is broccoli and broccoli sprouts; thanks to high concentrations of sulforaphane in both. Researches from the Linus Pauling Institute suggest this may help cells communicate with one another – reducing the likelihood of a batch turning rogue and creating a tumour.

Further down the list of suspects, spinach has been shown to reverse the cancerous effects of consuming too-much red meat in lab rats; while rainbow trout is generally regarded as useful, simply for being literally stuffed to the gills with Omega-3. This is thought to protect against breast cancer, but again no conclusive test has yet been conducted in humans.

ProblemsBest Diet

As suggested above, the amount of research into the tangible effects of superfoods is very often patchy, and the impacts of those foods on cancer rates outside of the lab is yet to be established. Of course, as far as your health is concerned, a diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables is always going to be a good idea. However, there’s an interesting side effect of a fixation on superfoods of which we should all be aware. When we become preoccupied with particular foods as a protective factor, it can be easy to forget about other important things like exercise and avoiding certain other foods. Thus someone eating plenty of broccoli might believe that they’re ‘protected’ from cancer and then cancel out the positive effects by eating more bacon or by smoking.

Then there’s a particularly interesting piece of research published this year, which suggests superfoods may actually cause cancer. Many superfoods work by defending the body against oxygen molecules called ‘free radicals’. However, a Nobel laureate is now suggesting ‘free radicals’ may be some of the most-effective anti-cancer fighters in existence. By focusing on eating superfoods, we may literally be making ourselves sicker – throwing a real spanner in the works as far as reducing cancer risk is concerned.

Of course, we’re not saying that this should be a cause for alarm, but it does emphasise the importance in recognising that these links between certain foods and cancer aren’t concrete. They’re interesting correlations that require further investigation. In the mean time, it’s best to keep an open mind. By all means, incorporate these foods with putative anticarcinogenic properties into your diet, but just remember not to cancel out the good effects with other aspects of your lifestyle, and to regard sensational media reports with a keen and critical eye.

Thanks to the bloggers at Cancer Research UK for this look into current research into the impacts of superfoods. Visit the site for help and resources for those living with breast cancer and their supporters.

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