An Ounce of Prevention

One in four individuals in North America will likely die of cancer. It's the second most common cause of death in the United States. Cancers that are most often associated with diet are cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, lung, breast, uterus, and prostate.

There are many risk factors for cancer, and diet seems to account for the dramatic differences in the occurrence of the disease around the world. In fact, scientific evaluation of the typical Western diet strongly suggests a direct

The correlation between nutrition and disease prevention. Indeed, population stud-

Enlightened ies have provided some of the most compelling evidence establishing the link Kitchen between nutrition and cancer. The best-known is the highly regarded China-Cornell-Oxford Project, conducted in 1983 by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the for-g mer senior science advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

This landmark study investigated chronic degenerative disease, including a variety of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. It was found that degenerative diseases tended to cluster in the more urbanized, industrialized counties, while communicable diseases were primarily found in the more agricultural counties. The dietary and lifestyle factors chiefly associated with those counties where degenerative diseases were clustered included diets richer in animal products and higher in total fat. In fact, disease patterns suggested strongly that the intake of much larger quantities of animal-based foods was the major dietary factor responsible. Dr. Campbell wrote, at the conclusion of the study, "We found a significant association between the consumption of even small amounts of animal-based foods and the increasing prevalence of heart disease, cancer, and similar diseases."

An important study, released in 1997 was the result of the collaboration of the American Institute for Cancer Research, (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund. The resulting 660-page report, called Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was based on more than 4,500 research studies reviewed by contributors and peer-reviewers from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Agency on Research in Cancer, and the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

The key message of this comprehensive scientific analysis? Cancer is a preventable disease, and as many as 375,000 cases of cancer (at current cancer rates) could be prevented each year in the United States alone through healthy dietary choices. The recommendations include adopting a predominantly plant-based diet, rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, maintaining a healthy weight, and performing at least one hour of vigorous exercise each week. According to the National Cancer Institute, 80 percent of cancers are due to factors that have been identified and can potentially be prevented. Lifestyle choices are the most significant contributor, with 30 percent due to tobacco use, and as much as 50 percent due to food choices.

Let's examine several kinds of cancer that are closely linked to diet. Cancer of the colon is defined as an abnormal and malignant mass of rapidly multi plying cells originating in the inner lining of the large intestine. The colon is the part of the large intestine that extends from the end of the small intestine to the rectum and people have an increasing risk for this type of cancer starting at the age of 40. One of the most striking features of colon cancer is the marked difference in the rate of incidence around the world. In less developed countries, such as parts of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, this type of cancer is very rare; in developed countries such as Europe and North America, the incidence can be as much as 10 times greater. This has been attributed to, for the most part, differences in diet.

The human intestine is lengthy and is coiled inside the abdomen, so it requires a good deal of fiber to help move things along. The high levels of fat and lack of fiber that characterize all flesh foods foster the growth of bacteria that combine with certain bile acids to form carcinogenic substances. A diet high in fiber and low in fat is believed protective in that it speeds the movement of food through the body, actually reducing the production of carcinogenic substances in the intestine.

Diets high in fat also may have a negative effect on breast cancer survival rates. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, one reason is that foods affect the action of hormones in the body, as well as the strength of the immune system. For instance, several of the more common types of cancer, such as cancer of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate, are linked to sex hormones. In large part, the amount of hormones in our bodies and their actions are determined by the foods we eat.

High-fat diets can set you up for an increased risk of breast cancer, because fats increase the amount of estrogen in the blood. Estrogen stimulates breast cells in such a way that cancer is more likely to occur and is more aggressive. Plus, diets high in fatty foods lead to obesity, which also causes higher estrogen levels in the blood. However, if you ask any doctor what you should do in order to prevent breast cancer, the response will most likely be to get an annual mammogram, beginning at age 40 or 50. But mammograms do not prevent cancer . . . they only find cancer. Enlightened medical counsel recommend eating a low-fat, plant-based diet to eliminate foods that raise hormones in the blood. Additionally, vegetables and other healthful plant foods are rich in fiber, which helps reduce the risk of breast cancer by naturally decreasing estrogen levels. Add soy to the low-fat, plant-based diet, and you have an opportunity to downgrade the amount of estrogen in the blood even more radically. Soy products contain phytoestrogens. These phytochemicals are very

weak plant estrogens that reduce human estrogens' ability to attach to your cells. This results in a marked reduction of estrogen in the blood and less estrogen stimulation of cells.

And what about prostate cancer? A recent study at the University of California at Los Angeles has shown that men who go on a low-fat, high-fiber diet and simultaneously exercise can favorably affect the hormones and serum growth factors that influence prostate cancer growth. The subjects adhered to a diet regimen that contained less than 10 percent of calories from fat, and lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The exercise component involved walking 30 to 60 minutes, at a quick pace, 4 to 5 days a week. The results suggested that exercise and a low-fat, high-fiber diet significantly reduced the growth of prostate cancer cells.

The scientific evidence is compelling. The recommendations are clear: replacing animal products with vegetables and other health-supporting plant foods and reducing overall fat should be your first line of defense against heart disease and many forms of cancer. As Dr. William Harris, in his classic book, The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism, states, "The vegan (plant-based) diet, extolled by its advocates for at least 150 years as a cancer preventive strategy, is the logical end point of the dietary recommendations, now made by scientific organizations, to reduce animal food consumption."

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