Cancer or malignancy is an abnormal growth of cells. Cancer is a much feared word and being diagnosed with cancer causes anxiety and fear among both patients and their families. There are many types of cancer although the more common ones are breast cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer etc. The common treatments for cancer include chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery.
Cancer no longer needs to be a dreaded disease. A lot of research for prevention and cure of cancer has been going on for years world-wide. One of the most important results from these studies has been that including fruits and vegetables in our daily diet has been found to go a long way in preventing or slowing the growth of cancer cells.
How do fruits and vegetables help fight cancer?
The big question is, can eating more fruits or vegetables actually prevent cancer? Yes, say researchers. Although scientists have not been able to zero in on a single food that will help fight cancer, a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains etc. do help fight cancer, diabetes and heart diseases too. Thousands of studies which have been done by World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research points to the benefits of eating foods of plant origin. Foods such as broccoli, berries, and garlic showed some of the strongest links to cancer prevention. These foods are low in calories and fat and packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants that reduce cancer risks.
Phytochemicals and other nutrients found in vegetables and fruits help fight cancer. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene are found in many fruits and vegetables. According to Jed W. Fahey, ScD, MS, a faculty research associate at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, all these compounds protect cells from harmful compounds in food and environment. They also help prevent cell damage and mutations. Researchers have linked 1/3rd of the cancers to the food that we eat. Anti oxidants in fruits and vegetables prevent the body from harmful free radicals.
Linda Keleman, a researcher with Mayo Clinic College of Medicine is of opinion that three or more servings of vegetables daily (excluding our good old potatoes) reduces risk of a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by 40%. (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma happens when the cells of Iymph nodes divide and grow out of control).
Plant fibers and pectin perform many useful functions which help for the growth of essential bacteria for many of the vital functions including inflammation control, detoxification and hormone metabolism. Vitamin C in vegetables and fruits too performs many cell-protective functions and contributes to the healthy functioning of the digestive tract, nose, throat, lungs, and also on the tendons and ligaments for healthy joints and gives resistance to various viral infections.
Thus including foods with these anti-inflammatory benefits is a good way to develop immunity from the development and spread of cancer.
Cyanidins is another useful chemical found in apples and other dark colored fruits. They are found in the skin of fruits and give fruits their dark red color. These cyanidins have been found to have numerous health benefits including cancer fighting properties.
Some of the super foods that prevent cancer and the role of apples in preventing cancer
- Brussels sprouts,
- Cabbage and its cruciferous variants like cauliflower and kale,
- Red and purple grapes,
- Grape fruit,
- Sweet potatoes,
- Some seeds like sunflower seeds,
- Pumpkin seeds,
- Flax seed,
- Brazil nuts,
- Red and yellow peppers,
The list is endless. Even tea, some whole grains, egg yolk and oily fish are all found to be very nutrient-rich and help in the fight against prevention of cancer.
The findings presented at the annual Frontiers in Cancer prevention Research conference in Seattle says that ‘An apple a day plus a vegetable rich diet’ help cancer prevention to a large extend. Francis Raul, research director of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Strasbourg, France found in his laboratory and animal studies that a chemical in apples helped prevent colon cancer. Raul exposed the cancer cells to various antioxidants in apple and found that procyanidins, a type of antioxidant helped kill cancer cells. In another experiment with rats, rats were exposed to colon cancer causing substances. Half of these rats were given apple water and the other half of the rats were on a regular diet. The results of the experiments revealed that rats that were given apple water had a 50% reduction in their cancerous lesions. So, the findings suggest that eating apples with their skin, may have cancer preventing properties.
The first signs of cancer develops from roaming electrons which damage the DNAs in the body causing oxidative stress and also inflammation. Some chemicals found in apples called flavonoids have antioxidant properties and protect the cells by destroying these free radicals which harm the genes in the body. They also have the property of turning the genes off and on (communicate with the genes).
Jeanelle Boyer and Rui Hai Liu of Cornell University have in their article ‘Apple phtochemicals and their health benefits’ found that consumption of apples did lead to reduced cancer risks. Most of the useful flavonoids in apples are found in the skin of apples, so it always advisable to eat apples with their skins. The apples can be washed in warm water to remove wax if any, on the skin of the apples (wax is usually coated on apples to increase their shelf life). Dr. Rui Hai Liu also found from his laboratory studies that the phtochemicals in apples help reduce breast cancer tumor growth.
Quercitin is another useful chemical found in red apples. It is also found in red onions, pomegranates and cranberries. It is one of the most beneficial chemicals and is said to have over 30 known functions in the body. Quercitin must be broken down by healthy bacteria in the intestines. These lactic acid bacteria are available in plenty in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chi and miso; else a supplement of probiotics has to be taken to get full benefits of Quercitin.
The results of German studies which were done on the effects of apple, apple juice and apple components on cancer producing cells found that regular consumption of apples can reduce the risk of lung and colon cancer by altering the metabolism of cancer producing chemicals, by their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, allowing normal cell death and also by influencing gene influencing events and innate immunity (the first line of defense against invading organisms).
Another study from Brazil has shown that women eating three apples a day lowers their calorie intake and contributes to weight reduction, which indirectly leads to lesser incidence of cancer.
Benefits of quercetin found in apples and onions to reduced cancer risk was also found in a research done in Hawaii.
Another very extensive study was done in Finland’s National health Institute to prove that consuming flavonoid-rich diet, especially from Apples reduced the risk of developing cancer. The study done on 9,959 cancer free man and women found that these people were 20% less likely to develop cancer. The incidence of lung cancer also reduced by 46% for people whose diet was rich in apples. The incidence of coronary mortality also decreased by taking apples regularly.
Eating one or more apples per day was associated with lower risk for lung and colon cancer in several large-scale human studies that looked at apple consumption and cancer incidence.
Thus the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to fight cancer and Apple is one of the most important component of this diet. Antioxidants are the most powerful in apples and these along with the other useful chemicals can protect cells from the development and growth of cancer. Cornell university researchers too concur with this view and their studies too have shown the benefits of phytochemicals found in apple peels which have antioxidant and anti proliferative properties.
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It is no wonder, that Apple has been popular from ancient times. We can enjoy the benefits of apple by including them in a variety of dishes from salads and juices to sauces, cooked or baked or poached, but always remember to include the skin of apples which has been found to have the maximum amount of benefits.