The Colors of Cancer
Bright hues in fruits and vegetables indicate
the presence of cancer-fighting phytonutrients.
By Lisa James
Bold color doesn’t just make a fashion statement—it makes a health statement as well. The bright hues seen in produce indicate the presence of phytonutrients, substances that boost well-being in a number of ways, including cancer prevention. Produce also supports health by providing fiber along with vitamins and minerals.
What produce doesn’t supply is just as important. “Fruits and vegetables are low in calorie density, which means they help prevent the buildup of body fat that has been convincingly linked to increased risk for many cancers,” says Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD, of the American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org).
Phytonutrients: allicin, found in garlic, leeks, onions, scallions and shallots; limonoids, found in grapefruits, lemons, limes, noni and oranges; and carotenoids, found in apricots, bell peppers, carrots, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mangoes, papayas, spinach, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
Garlic’s allicin content accounts for its fame as a protector of the heart and defense against infection. But studies have also linked high garlic intake with lower cancer rates, especially those of the esophagus and stomach.
The limonoids have been found to help the liver clear toxins from the body; in mice they have encouraged production of GST, a key detoxifying enzyme. In other animal studies, limonoid compounds have reduced tumor size.
The carotenoids are antixoidants that boost immune activity. This family includes lutein and zeaxanthin, best known for their roles in maintaining eye health by protecting the retina against light-induced damage. But these inflammation-fighting substances have been linked with cancer protection as well, particularly against kidney and ovarian malignancies. The latest studies indicate that lutein and zeaxanthin may also help fight colon cancer.
Phytonutrients: catechins, found in apples, berries and green tea; chlorophyll, found in all green plants, with barley and wheat grasses, the algae chlorella and spirulina, and leafy greens as especially rich sources; and sulforaphane, found in broccoli (especially broccoli sprouts), brussels sprouts and cabbage.
Catechins, in particular the epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) found in green tea, have been investigated for a whole host of possible benefits, including oral health, cardiovascular well-being, maintaining bone strength, supporting weight loss and protection against arthritis.
But these compounds have also been found to inhibit enzymatic reactions that promote cancer development and have reduced tumor size in studies.
Chlorophyll, the substance that allows plants to turn sunlight into sustenance, helps account for the long history of consuming green foods as a revitalizing spring tonic and blood cleanser. That usage is now backed by scientific research; chlorophyll has been found to possess powerful detoxification properties, support immunity and protect against the kinds of genetic damage that can lead to cancer development. Chlorophyll may protect the liver against carcinogens found in fungi that live on moldy grains and legumes, a particular problem in hot, humid parts of the world without adequate grain storage facilities.
Sulforaphane is one of the compounds responsible for broccoli’s stellar cancer-fighting reputation.
It helps retard the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a micro-organism linked to stomach cancer, and may help slow the decline in immune function that occurs with age. In one study, sulforaphane was found to target cancer cells for destruction while leaving normal cells intact and healthy. In another, it inhibited cancer stem cells, an activity researchers believe plays a key role in cancer control.
Phytonutrients: lycopene, found in grapefruits, tomatoes and watermelons; ellagic acid, found in grapes, pomegranates, raspberries and strawberries; resveratrol, found in grapes and peanuts (supplements often use Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum); and anthocyanins, found in açai, bilberries, blackberries, black currants, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, goji, grapes, mangosteen and plums.
Well known for helping to fight prostate cancer, lycopene may also help retard benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate common in older men. In addition, lycopene may help defend against malignancies of the stomach and lung, as well as providing support for blood vessel health and reducing the risk of asthma development.
Ellagic acid and substances related to it are thought to explain study results in which pomegranate extract was able to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells and show promise in reducing risk for hormone-dependent breast cancer. It inhibits some carcinogens from binding with DNA.
Resveratrol is best known for its ability to help fight aging and support cardiovascular health, in addition to lowering glucose levels and helping to ease diabetes symptoms. But research has found that it may also sensitize cancer cells to standard therapies and reduce colorectal cancer risk.
Anthocyanins are responsible for the superfood status of berries. They have been found to fight cancer development at all stages, including curbing cancer-related DNA damage and the growth of
pre-malignant cells, encouraging a natural cell-death process called apoptosis and inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to form tumors.