​ Nutrition - Phytochemicals: part two

Friday 04 May 2018

As promised this week I want to look at a few more phyto chemicals that have ‘been shown’ to be very beneficial for those with cancer.

Phytochemicals and cancer

Phytochemicals can have a profound effect on cancer cells as indicated in laboratory tests. As you may know that the cells in our bodies are constantly dying and being replaced by new cells. Healthy cells have a normal life cycle of approximately 120 days before they die. This process is called Apoptosis (natural cell death). The body replaces these dying cells with healthy cells. Conversely cancer cells do not die but divide which is a problem.  This knowledge links very nicely with the first phytochemical that I want to look at in this blog and that is Ellagic acid.

Ellagic acid

This first came to my attention when I was studying my post graduate course in cancer and nutrition and I can remember the lecturer getting very excited about this.  Ellagic acid is found primarily in berry fruits particularly raspberries, also in walnuts and pomegranates.

  • Ellagic acid has been shown to encourage cancer cells to go through the normal process of apoptosis (cell death) without damaging healthy cells.
  • Researchers also found that Ellagic acid showed a dramatic reduction in the growth of precancerous cells and tumour progression.
  • Equally as exciting that after a 9 year study they also found that Ellagic acid caused G arrest (inhibiting and stopping mitosis- cancer cell division) and encouraged apoptosis (normal cell death). Seems quite impressive doesn’t it.


Now I want to move on to Curcumin probably the one that I am asked about more than any others. Curcumin comes from the spice Turmeric which comes from the plant Curcuma Longa a member of the ginger family. It is a spice used in curry dishes and It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It has been shown to have many benefits at every stage of cancer,

  • It has shown to be anti inflammatory (cancer is an inflammatory process).
  • it has been shown to inhibit angiogenesis which is when the cancer cells develop their own blood supply to get nourishment to grow.
  • Also it was  shown to boosts glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant which helps the cells to correct oxygen levels and as we know cancer does not enjoy a high oxygen medium.
  • It also increases the expression of the P53 protein. This protein is essential for apoptosis or normal cell death.
  • Most of the research on curcumin has been carried out by Professor Bharai Aggarwai who boldly states that no cancer has been found which is not affected by curcumin. It can actually be bought as a supplement and as much as 2 X 400mg a day has been used experimentally without side effects. It has a very good safety record.

So what do we do with this evidence?
This blog seems to contain the answers that we have been looking for. If they are then why have these natural wonder foods not got a higher profile in cancer treatment? The main reason is that the experiments and research is mostly lab based.  All the research papers and books that I have read all agree that although this evidence is really encouraging more human studies are needed. Now I may not be privy to that latest studies but to date am not aware of human trials. Naturopaths embrace the results of these laboratory studies and ‘go for it’, relying on these natural compounds in their fight against cancer.

Also we must remember that in nature all foods and their compounds work synergistically (together)not in isolation, and this relationship is still not well understood.  

The bottom line

Strong advice is to try and include at least 8-10 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables a day in the diet and within that mix try and include some of the foods mentioned that have been shown to be so beneficial,  particularly at this time of the year when seasonal berry fruits are in abundance.

I can imagine a mixed berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of ground almonds added (to help stabilise blood sugar) whizzed together to make an ideal quick breakfast. Or a dish of fresh berries topped with live natural bio yogurt topped with some mixed seeds as a powerful breakfast or snack.  Make a berry crumble using oats, wholemeal flour and rapeseed oil to make the crumble topping and agave syrup to sweeten the fruit.

Note that I have only looked at a few of the more common phytochemicals, if you remember I said at the beginning there are thousands of these phytochemicals still being researched and their benefits discovered. So watch this space.

Blog originally written by Caroline August 2012

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