While the medical community has a lot to learn about the intricacies of cancer, it is well-established that certain lifestyle changes can reduce our cancer risk. Last month, we talked about a variety of prevention tips, and this month I’d like to delve a little further into one of the most important: diet and the role of antioxidants. Proper diet is important to the success of any cancer therapy, but it is an integral part of the multifaceted holistic cancer treatment approach we use at the EuroMed Foundation.
Antioxidants & Free Radicals
During your consultation at our Arizona cancer center, you may hear about the importance of antioxidants in your diet and how we need to control the amount of free radicals in your system. Let’s break down what these terms mean and how they affect your health.
- An antioxidant is any nutrient, such as those found in supplements or food, that has the ability to “gobble up” free radicals. These free radicals can reduce immune function, accelerate aging, and increase the risk of cancer.
- Free radicals are any unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron in the outer regions of the molecule. These unpaired electrons scavenge other electrons or “oxidize” other nearby chemical compounds to help stabilize themselves at the expense of the surrounding area. Free radicals pull from our tissues and fluids, causing DNA damage and cell instability and even contributing to systemic inflammation and conditions such as cataracts, strokes, and cancer.
Where Free Radicals Come From
Free radicals can come from either internal or external sources. Some internal sources are within the cells themselves and are a natural by-product of cell metabolism. A healthy body is able to use antioxidants to eliminate these free radicals. Some diseases, however, can produce huge amounts of free radicals that overload the body’s natural ability to combat these harmful molecules. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and autoimmune diseases all accelerate free radical production within the body.
In addition to the ways the body fights free radicals internally, we can also adjust lifestyle and diet habits to limit exposure to external sources. Some examples of external sources are heavy metals and chemotherapy. Although chemotherapy effectively kills cancer cells, the chemicals used can have harmful long-term effects, including organ damage, infertility, nerve destruction, and the stimulation of other types of cancer.
This is one of the reasons we use insulin potentiation therapy (IPT), a very low-dose chemotherapy that also cuts way down on the formation of free radicals. IPT helps limit the potential harmful side effects that often accompany conventional cancer treatments.
Fighting Back With Dietary Antioxidants
Food is one of the most powerful medicines for optimizing health, and this is very true for a diet high in antioxidants. You can find antioxidants in the form of medications or supplements (check back next month for more on that topic), but we also like to focus on whole food sources and general nutrition for health optimization.
If you’re looking for antioxidant-rich foods, keep this acronym in mind: A-DECK. Those antioxidant vitamins (A, D, E, C, and K) can help you fight off free radicals in your body.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A specifically protects linings of the respiratory, urinary, and gastrointestinal tracts against the free radicals that these areas may be exposed to through food or the environment, such as from cigarette smoke. Preformed vitamin A comes from animal sources such as cod liver oil, and a vitamin A precursor is found in colorful vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin D: Also known as calciferol, vitamin D is critical for mineral absorption and overall bone health. This nutrient also helps protect the nerves from free radicals commonly produced by working muscles. We can obtain vitamin D from sun exposure and wild fish, such as salmon, herring, and trout.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin’s primary role is to scavenge the free radicals produced by muscles throughout the body, including the heart. Without enough vitamin E in your diet, you will commonly experience chronic back pain and muscle twitches. Plant-sourced fats such as rice bran oil, sunflower seeds, and almonds are great sources of natural vitamin E.
- Vitamin C: Like vitamin E, vitamin C also works to protect against the large amounts of free radicals produced in the muscles, in addition to addressing the free radicals commonly associated with normal immune function. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale and broccoli are an excellent way to include more vitamin C in your diet.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K produces proteins found in the blood and protects the bloodstream from free radical activity. Swiss chard, dandelion greens, and endive are all great sources of vitamin K.
As you may have noticed, the majority of these vitamins are fat-soluble, which is why I encourage patients to have a diet high in nutrient-dense “good fats” such as olive oil. By combining a diet rich in antioxidants with other cancer therapies, we can improve our patient’s immune function, cellular metabolism, and overall health.
To learn more about holistic cancer therapies and other positive lifestyle changes you can make to help treat and prevent cancer, please leave a comment below, reach out to us online, or call us at (602) 404-0400.