What is cancer?
Cancer begins as a single abnormal cell that begins to multiply out of control. Groups of such cells form tumors and invade healthy tissue, often spreading to other parts of the body. Carcinogens are substances that promote the development of cancerous cells. They may come from foods, from the air, or even from within the body. Most carcinogens are neutralized before damage can occur, but sometimes they attack the cell's genetic material (DNA) and alter it. It takes years for a noticeable tumor to develop. During this time, compounds known as inhibitors can keep the cells from growing.
Cancer and our diet
According to the National Cancer Institute, only 5-10% of all cancer cases can be attributable to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90-95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle. The evidence indicates that of all cancer related deaths, diet is a more significant cause of deaths as compared to tobacco, with 30-35% of the deaths being linked to diet compared to 20-25% for tobacco.
Cancer and a Non-vegetarian diet: The high fat content of meat & dairy increase hormone production, increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast & prostrate cancer. The cooking and processing of meat, leads to the release of certain carcinogenic compounds (HCA – heterocyclic amines & PAH – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that increase cancer risk. Heterocyclic amines are a risk factor for several tumor types, in particular for colon cancers.
Cancer and a Vegan Diet: All the evidence points to a low-fat, high fiber diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, as being the best for cancer prevention. Vegetarians consume more Vitamin C, beta-carotene, indoles and fibre than meat eaters. Vegeterians also have a higher level of natural killer cells – specialised white blood cells that attack and neutralize cancer cells.
Role of fibre: Fibre in food is considered to have strong beneficial impacts with relation to the prevention of cancerous cell growth. While vegetables & fruits are good sources of fibres, animal products are devoid of fibre all together. By definition, fiber is not digested in the initial stages of digestion and helps to move food more quickly through the intestines, helping to eliminate carcinogens. Additionally, fibre draws water into the digestive track, that along with fibre help to dilute carcinogens. Fiber also helps bind bile acids and evict them from the intestines, preventing bacteria from changing the bile into carcinogenic chemicals.
Scientific evidence: Cancer and diet
Research that has been conducted on the linkage between meat, dairy and cancer have found
- higher risks of cancers of all types with increased meat and dairy consumption
- higher cancer mortality rates for non-vegetarians compared to vegetarians
- powerful anti-cancer and chemopreventive effects through consumption of fruits & vegetables
Details of the same (including the research methodology, key findings and a link to the original study) are available in the resource tab below.