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Phytochemicals

Plant-based foods produce a wide variety of compounds that are refer to as phytochemicals which help to prevent and treat numerous health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Because of the number of phytochemicals and the complexity of the chemical processes they are involved in, researchers face the challenging task of trying to determine which phytochemicals in foods are truly beneficial to health which may fight cancer and other diseases, and which may even be harmful.

The phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are potent anticancer agents but not those supplements that contain only a fraction of what the plants have to offer. Therefore it will be wiser to eat the whole foods themselves.

The following fruits and vegetables are thought to be the most protective against specific types of cancer :

bladder cancergreen and black teas, citrus fruits, cumin, fruits, garlic
breast cancerasparagus, berries, mushrooms, flaxseeds, pineapples, green tea, and tomato sauce
cancer of the larynxfruits and vegetables in general
cervical cancerberries and tomato sauce
colon cancerapples, cumin, turmeric, garlic, green tea, onion, soy products, tomato sauce, and beans
esophageal cancerfruits and vegetables in general, onion, green tea, asparagus and mushrooms
liver cancergreen and black teas, asparagus, mushrooms, and fruits in general
lung cancerapples, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels and sprouts), soy products and green tea
pancreaslegumes, fruits in general
prostate cancergarlic, green tea, tomato sauce, soy products, fruits in general
stomach cancergarlic, legumes, green tea, onion, soy products, yellow and orange vegetables
skin cancergreen tea

Please note that the above table only serves as a rough guide. It may be more effective for cancer patients to consume a variety of vegetables and fruits than eating one particular food in large amounts since no conclusive results have been drawn from clinical studies done so far.
Information on some selected plant-based foods
  • Bromelain
  • Ellagic Acid
  • Folic Acid
  • Garlic
  • Green Tea
  • Soy
  • Tomato
DescriptionSide-effects

Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples. When given in combination with chemotherapy drugs such as 5-FU and vincristine, some studies reported tumour regression. Therefore it offers the promise of making the conventional therapy more effective.

Some people may be allergic to bromelain and it may cause bleeding when taken with anticoagulant (blood thinning) medications. Some practitioners advise caution when administering bromelain to people with high blood pressure.

Ellagic Acid has been found to cause apoptosis(cell death) in cancer cells in the laboratory. It may also prevent the binding of carcinogens to DNA and strengthen connective tissue which may keep cancer cells from spreading. Ellagic acid are found in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, walnuts, pomegranates, pecans and other plant foods.

Eating berries is considered safe.
Folic acid is a B-complex vitamin found in many vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains and some fortified breakfast cereals. It helps in the metabolism of DNA, and is especially important for the development of blood cells.

If taken in extremely large doses, it can be toxic. High doses of folate also interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug methotrexate.
Garlic may reduce tumour growth. It is the garlic's sulfur compounds that has shown to kill some form of cancer cells.

Consumption of large amounts of garlic, may lead to irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, causing stomach pain, gas and vomitting.
Green tea contains chemicals known as polyphenols which have antioxidant properties and also contains a compound known as Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, that is believed to block production of an enzyme required for cancer cell growth.

Some people may develop allergic reactions and should stop drinking it. Drinking large amounts of green tea may cause nutritional and other problem because of the caffeine content and the strong binding activities of the polyphenols. Because caffeine acts as a stimulant, people with irregular heartbeats or who have anxiety attacks should not drink more than 2 cups a day.
Soy contains isoflavones may play a role in reducing the risk of cancer.

The isoflavones in soy have weak estrogen-like activity, and it remains uncertain how this affects the growth of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers. Some researchers suggest that they may act as anti-estrogens and reduce cancer growth, while others suggest their estrogenic activity could cause cancers to grow faster. Until this issue is resolved, many oncologists recommend that people who take tamoxifen or people with estrogen-sensitive breast tumours should avoid the addition of large amounts of soy to their diets.

Side effects are rare, but may include occasional gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain, loose stool and diarrhea.
Tomato contains lycopene which is believed to be a powerful antioxidant. Cook tomatoes are a better source of available lycopene than raw tomato juice because the heating action allows the body to quickly absorb the lycopene.

Lycopene obtained from eating fruits and vegetables has no known side effects.

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