Since 1992, Europe has been studying the effect of diet on long term health through a collaborative study called EPIC (the European Prospective Investigation), which is the largest detailed study of the relationship between nutrition and cancer ever undertaken.
It involves over 500,000 people in 10 European countries, coordinated by the World Health Organization and supported by the European Union and national funding agencies.
What’s really exceptional about it is that those ten countries have very different diets and lifestyles, which makes this study a good one to demonstrate a relationship between diet and cancer, although high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are also being studied for diet’s effect on them as well.
In the UK, there’s even one cohort composed only of vegetarians and vegans.
The jury is still out on the absolute role of diet in cancer, and whether a good diet could prevent cancer altogether, but some preliminary findings have emerged — enough to have kicked off quite a bit of interest in food as medicine. There is more information about the preventive effects of certain diets than about the curative effects of nutrition, but even those relationships are beginning to emerge.
One of the early findings was that a diet high in dietary fiber lowers the risk of bowel cancer. Another commonly accepted finding is that increased fat consumption contributes to the risk of breast cancer, as do high levels of sex hormones.
But the most important discovery so far was that the combined impact of four behaviors – not smoking, being physically active, moderate alcohol intake and the consumption of at least five fruit and vegetable servings a day – was estimated to add fourteen years to your life.
While eating more foods with bioflavinoids had a preventive impact for women, the study couldn’t find correlation for men. (Bioflavinoids are present in parsley, wine, cocoa, and blueberries, among other foods.) Processed meats, on the other hand, were implicated in increased risk of all kinds of cancer for both sexes.
From these early findings came a new interest in food as medicine. Now, a study by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute finds that consuming nuts can actually help reduce recurrence and death for people with Stage 3 colon cancer, although no one knows why (yet).
The most recent study found a significant reduction in recurrence and death among patients with stage III colon cancer who regularly ate at least two one-ounce servings of nuts a week, compared to patients who did not eat nuts. The nut-eaters had a 42 percent improvement in disease-free survival and a 57 percent improvement in overall survival.
Interestingly, the association was statistically significant for consumption of tree nuts – walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts – but not peanuts or peanut butter.
According to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center “The American Institute for Cancer Research promotes a plant-based diet. Two-thirds or more of your plate should be plant-based foods. That’s in part because plant-based foods contain phytochemicals, the nutrients that you’re immune system needs to fight off diseases like cancer. Plant-based foods also contain more fiber, which can help lower your cancer risk. Fiber not only keeps you feeling full longer, but it helps lower your cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels and manage your bowels. Meat just doesn’t have that.”
One popular theory about the relationship between food and cancer is that the ultimate cause of cancer in the body is chronic inflammation. This “chronic” inflammation (which means constant inflammation), often caused by toxins found in processed foods, especially in the factory-farmed agricultural United States, causes normal cells to mutate. Cancer is effectively caused by these mutated cells. The mutated cells grow rapidly and become tumors. Further some believe that because inflammation also inhibits the immune system, these mutated cells can grow without the immune system being able to fight them.
It is therefore important to reduce pesticides, preservatives, plastics, pollutants and all toxins in the food and water that we eat and drink every day. This will reduce chronic inflammation and reduce cancer. But while we are all working on cleaner food and choosing better food to eat (like tree nuts) we must also become good at curing cancer. Helping cure cancer is my focus.
Roy de Souza is a serial entrepreneur having started and run successful businesses in online advertising, e-commerce and mobile healthcare. He is now working on curing colon cancer. Roy has used his experience in cloud based worldwide scalable technology in the new field of personalized medicine. He is also the founder of ZEDO, ZINC and nULTA. He previously worked as a strategy consultant in the UK at COBA, ICI and at Zip2, Elon Musk’s first company. Roy graduated with an Masters in Engineering and Economics from Oxford and an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management.