Surely Foods Can’t Fight Cancer

It still comes as a surprise to people that we are what we eat – quite literally, at a molecular level.  And, so, I guess it’s no great surprise that most of us don’t realise the fact that the food we eat can determine whether or not we get nasty diseases, such as cancer? I want to look at a 2012 study1 that went into a fair bit of detail about just how specific foods have been shown to fight cancer. Here, they are talking about whole foods, that is, not those fragments of foods like you get in supplement pills or those weird chemicals added to (‘fortified with’) your Hovis white bread or Danone yogurts.

Foods that protect against cancer

Here’s the list of everyday plant foods that this detailed research study indicated were strongly related to cancer-protection:

Apples contain phenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins. These suppress the growth of MCF-7 and MCF-7-Her 18 cells and reduce the expression of PCNA protein levels. They also increase the expression of the maspin protein.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains EGCG, CG, GC, EC, EGC, ECG, GCG. These inhibit the growth of MDA-MB-231 cells; inhibit the activation of NF-kB, VEGF promoter activity, and VEGF production in MDA-MB-231 cells; inhibit NF-kB and HER-2/neu signalling in MMTV-HER-2/neu NF639 cells; decrease the peptide and transcript levels of VEGF in MDA-MB-231 cells; decrease bFGR protein and aFGR and bFGR transcript levels in MDA-MB-231 cells; suppress the growth and invasiveness of MDA-MB-231 cells; inhibited AP1, NF-kB and secretion of uPA; decrease VGEF production in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells; inhibit the invasion of MDA-MB-231 cells with reduced expression of VEGF and MMN-9; and blocked the activation of STAT3.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains diferuloylmethane. This inhibits the proliferation of MCF-7 cells with reduced expression of pS2 and TGF-β; inhibits invasion, down-regulated MMP-2, upregulated TIMP-1, and suppressed VEGF and bFGF in MDA-MB-231 cells; suppresses the basal VEGF synthesis in and release from MDA-MB-231 cells; and inhibits MPA-induced secretion of VEGF in T47-D cells.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum), berries and nuts. These contain punicalagin. This down-regulates VEGF in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells and upregulates MIF in MDA-MB-231 cells. They also contain ellagic acid. This inhibits the growth of MDA-MB-231 cells with anti-angiogenic effect by blocking NDPK-B.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea, and wine. These contain apigenin. This inhibits the proliferation of and induced apoptosis in MDA-MB-231 cells; inhibits VEGF release from MDA cells; reduces MPA-dependent production of VEGF mRNA and protein and also PR from T47-D cells; and abrogates the secretion of VEGF from BT-474 cells.

Soybean (Glycine max). This contains 4′, 5, 7-trihydroxyisoflavone. This inhibits the growth of MDA-MB-435 and 435.eB cells and suppresses MMP-2 and -9 secretion; inhibits the invasion of MCF-7 and MDA-MD-231 cells, downregulates MMP-9 and upregulates TIMP-1; arrests MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells in the G3M phase and downregulates several MMP genes; reduces adhesion and mortality of MDA-MD-231 cells; inhibits NF-kB, AP-1 and secretion of uPA; inhibits expression of VEGF, MMP-2 MMP-9 and uPA in MCF-7/HER-2 cells; reduces the survival of and inhibits uPA secretion from F311 cells; and increases VEGF secretion in MELN cells.

Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum). This contains enterodiol and enterolactone. These inhibit secretion of VEGF from MCF-7 cells.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea). These contain 1-Isothiocyanato-4-methylsulfinyl-butane (sulphoraphane). This suppresses TPA-induced invasiveness and MMP-9 activity in MDA-MD-231 cells; depresses the aggressive behaviour of MDA-MB-231 cells; downregulates MMP7 and MMP-14; decreases the production of pr-inflammatory cytokines, VEGF and PDGF; inhibits the proliferation of MCF-7 cells with p38 MAPK activation; and suppresses TPA-induced COX-2 expression and p38 MAPK phosphorylation in M13SV1 cells.

So what?

I know that this stuff is a bit complex (go to Wikipedia to find out the meanings of all the technical terms if you don’t have a masters or PhD in chemistry!), but the implication is reasonably clear: the whole plant foods mentioned above don’t kill you. They’re not full of toxic, carcinogenic substances. Indeed, quite the opposite appears to be the case: they’re the good guys at preventing us from actually getting cancer in the first instance (in this case, breast cancer, but I guess cancer is cancer), and from developing it to death-inducing levels once it has reared its ugly head.

Joe’s Humble advice

This is a complex subject with £billions of investment by huge multinational companies to maintain their profits, irrespective of your or my health. And me? Well, I just sit here and eat my broccoli and beans because it appears that all the factual research points to the health benefits of such dietary choices as are listed above. The choice is yours. For me, I know that I would rather not die of a cancer that could have been avoided by simply eating foods that, in any case, leave you feeling satisfied without that “ugh never fish and chips again!” feeling – you know the one!


  1. Reuben SC, Gopalan A, Petit DM, Bishayee A. Modulation of angiogenesis by dietary phytoconstituents in the prevention and intervention of breast cancer. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(1):14-29. []