10 Foods and Drinks With Potent Cancer Fighting Properties Backed By Science

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10 Foods & Drinks With Potent Cancer Fighting Properties Backed By Science

Conventional cancer treatments lean heavily on drugs. Doctors often recommend some dietary modifications such as cutting down on red meat and dairy intake and abstinence from alcohol and sugar during and after the cancer therapy, but the therapeutic role of cancer-fighting foods and drinks is generally overlooked.

Cancers start developing a long time before they actually become apparent. Autopsies of accident victims have shown that nearly half of them had undiagnosed cancer in various stages of growth, but most of these were as tiny as pinheads.

These dormant tumors do not cause any problem at that size, although they have the potential to flare up any time. They are never detected or treated, so the only weapons we have against them are cancer-fighting foods and drinks.

Anti-cancer food items contain a few active agents that have been proven in lab studies to directly destroy cancer cells. But their beneficial effect is not limited to this. They contain many other substances that support the body’s own mechanisms to arrest the growth and multiplication of cancer cells as well as prevent their invasion of surrounding tissues.

Here are ten cancer-fighting foods and drinks you can include in your diet:

Green Tea

Population studies have shown that people who habitually drink tea brewed from the leaves of Camellia sinensis are at reduced risk of developing many cancers. Highly reactive free radicals are formed in the body in the course of normal metabolic processes and when tissues get damaged by toxins, radiation exposure, and injuries. The free radicals have the potential to damage the DNA of cells. Cells with damaged DNA can multiply in an abnormal way, and become the starting point of various types of cancers.

Antioxidant compounds called catechins occur in  green tea and are highly effective in mopping up free radicals. They do this by combining with the free radicals and deactivating them. This process effectively reduces the risk of cancer.

There are several types of tea such as green, black and oolong teas, and all of them have varying amounts of catechins such as epicatechin, epigallocatechin , and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). But green tea is particularly high in EGCG which is known for its high antioxidative power surpassing that of Vitamins C and E.

The cancer-protective action of tea is not limited to the antioxidant effect of catechins. Other mechanisms also seem to be at work. They include inhibiting the action of enzymes that trigger tumor growth, promoting the self-destruction of abnormal cells through a process called apoptosis, and restraining the growth and spread of cancers to other tissues. Along with catechins, other potent phytochemicals in tea such as thearubigins, theaflavins, polyphenols and flavonols like quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol may be responsible for these actions.  

Bottled teas may not offer these benefits, so make freshly brewed tea a regular habit.

Recommended Reading: 10 Reasons To Have A Cup of Matcha Green Tea Today

Kombucha Tea

This fermented drink is made from slightly sweetened black tea through the action of yeast and bacteria colonies that thrive in the starter. Although the drink has been in use in China for the last 5,000 years, and even considered the elixir of life in that country, its therapeutic use, particularly its cancer protective action, was first put under scanner by the Russians in the early 20th century.

On trying to find a cure for cancer, Russian scientists noticed that large areas of the country where people traditionally drank ‘tea kvass’ (the Russian name for Kombucha tea) were generally free of cancer. After further studies, the drink was confirmed to be having a powerful detoxification effect on the liver that afforded protection against several types of cancer.

Personal testimonies of the cancer-fighting potential of this drink abound, the most notable among them being Nobel Prize winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s claim that it cured his stomach cancer while he was in the Soviet labor camp. President Reagan was probably another beneficiary, but these instances can be taken as anecdotal evidence at best.

Earlier research had attributed the detoxification effect of Kombucha tea to its high acetic acid content, but glucaric acid is the new contender. Recent lab tests have shown that this substance has definite chemopreventive properties. Although Kombucha tea is readily available in health food outlets, pasteurization and preservatives have reduced its effectiveness. It is best to make your own with the starter.  

Further Reading: 5 Fermented Foods (Including Kombucha) For Better Gut Health

Red Grapes & Grape Juice

Grapes contain resveratrol, a polyphenol known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that offer cancer protection. The red and purple varieties are particularly high in this substance, so is red wine. However, since alcohol consumption is implicated in many cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, colon and rectum as well as breast cancer in women, red wine is no candidate for an anticancer diet.

Resveratrol’s anti cancer action has been vetted by several laboratory studies conducted in vitro and on animals, but there have been wide variations in the result based on the dosage and the way this polyphenolic compound was introduced. For example, it inhibited skin cancer in mice when it was given through injections, but not when it was given orally. At the same time, oral administration prevented the spread of cancer to the liver.

Resveratrol has been shown to have a beneficial effect on prostate and breast cancers in mice as well as cancers of the gastrointestinal tract but not all of them have been replicated in clinical trials. Another interesting finding is that it seemed to promote cancer cell growth at very high doses.

Nevertheless, a long term epidemiologic study has shown a 50% reduction in breast cancer in women who obtained resveratrol from eating grapes, but not from drinking wine. It goes to show that regular intake of small amounts of chemopreventive agents through diet may be your best bet in fighting cancer. Since this polyphenol is concentrated in the skin of the grapes, freshly prepared juice of organically grown red grapes would offer maximum benefit.


Research shows that eating broccoli and other cabbage family vegetables like, Brussels sprouts, rapine, kale and collard greens lowers the risk of several types of cancers including prostate, breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. Almost all cruciferous vegetables contain vitamin C and the dark-colored ones like kale and collard greens are good sources of vitamin K.

The antioxidant effect of these vitamins apart from the cancer-fighting action could be due to the organosulfur compounds in these vegetables. They break down in the body to produce anti-inflammatory agents called indoles and isothiocyanates which have an inhibitory action on the enzymes that initiate cancer. They may even promote apoptosis, the self-destructive mechanism of faulty cells that have the potential to become cancerous. Broccoli and cauliflower are particularly rich in the isothiocyanate sulforaphane.

Kaempferol, quercetin, and folate are some of the other bioactive substances in cruciferous vegetables that may contribute to cancer protection. Because of the wide choice available, it easy to include at least a few of these vegetables in your regular diet


This North American native has attracted attention for its excellent antioxidant power thanks to the high anthocyanin content of the fruit. Animal studies have shown that blueberry extract can decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of esophageal cancer. It can control the progress of mouth, breast, and prostate cancers by promoting the self destruction of cancer cells. High vitamin C content as well as the presence of ellagitannins may be contributing to the cancer-protective effect.

Ellagitannins get converted into ellagic acid and then into urolithins. These compounds protect DNA from free radical damage that is the starting point of many cancers. Blueberries contain a substance called Pterostilbene which is related to the resveratrol in red grapes. It has been found to cause self destruction of abnormal cells in the stomach, pancreas and lung tissue.


The seeds of leguminous plants that are used as food contain the B-complex vitamin folate besides being a good source of protein and soluble fiber. This vitamin has a well known role in regulating cell division and cell repair. Having a diet containing sufficient amounts of folate is known to offer protection against pancreatic cancer.

Legumes contain other substances such as resistant starches that may offer some protection against cancer. They are similar to soluble fiber in the sense that they remain undigested in the intestines and help avoid blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance. Other benefits include reducing ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory conditions which have the potential to lead to colorectal cancer.

Resistant starches provide sustenance to the microbes in the colon, where they get broken down into short chain fatty acids that have a protective effect on the colon cells. The most significant of these fatty acids is butyrate which has been shown to inhibit tumor formation in the colon, as well as prevent the proliferation of abnormal cells by causing their early death.

Dry legumes such as kidney beans and black beans are often excluded from our diet on account of causing flatulence. Soaking whole beans, split peas and lentils in water and thoroughly cooking them can reduce this problem to a great extent.

Whole Grains

Although a low-carb diet is generally considered healthier, whole grains do have some cancer-fighting power to offer. The presence of soluble and insoluble fiber is one way to explain this effect, but while a 10 gram increase in fiber intake alone produced only 10% reduction in colorectal cancer risk, including 6 ounces of whole grains in the diet showed a 21% risk reduction. This goes to prove that there are several other phytochemicals at work here.   

The fiber in the whole grains helps add bulk to the stomach contents and facilitate their faster movement down the digestive tract and rapid elimination. This prevents the toxic substances in the food causing damage to the intestinal wall. The fiber itself absorbs many toxins and removes them from the body. Conversion of soluble fiber and resistant starches into fatty acids like butyric acid in the colon may add another layer of protection.

Several population studies conducted in the last two decades have shown lower incidence of stomach and colorectal cancers as well as prostate and breast cancers in communities that included high amounts of whole grains. Polyphenolic flavonoids, lignans, saponins and phytic acid are among the many compounds that offer this protective effect. Women who had higher blood levels of lignans seemed to have less risk of developing certain types of breast cancers, probably because lignans are phytoestrogens. The mineral selenium found in brown rice and oatmeal also has antioxidant properties.

Wide variation is seen in the amount of chemoprotective agents present in different types of grains. So it would be ideal if you include several grains in your diet to derive maximum benefit.


These tree nuts are studied extensively for their various health benefits, including cancer-fighting property. Some of the bioactive compounds under scanner are ellagitannins, Alpha linolenic acid, polyphenols, phytosterols, melatonin and Gamma-tocopherol occurring in these nuts.

Several animal studies have shown that including walnuts in the diet stops or slows down the progress of breast cancer and prostate cancer. The Ellagitannins get converted into ellagic acid and later into urolithins which are known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cancer inhibiting properties. Gamma-tocopherol is a type of Vitamin E that has excellent antioxidant and cancer protective action. The hormone melatonin also has antioxidant properties and the phytosterols may act as anti-inflammatory agents.

Including walnuts in your diet is a tasty way to better health, but they are best enjoyed with the skin on because the tannins are concentrated on the thin skin covering the meat.

Tomato Sauce & Salsa

Tomatoes make the list because of the high lycopene content in them. This carotenoid pigment has been found to be an excellent antioxidant that can protect against DNA damage. Tests have shown that lycopene reduces inflammatory signals that trigger cellular changes and inhibits the growth of abnormal cells.

The cancer-fighting properties of lycopene may reduce prostate cancer risk and may help slow down the progress of the disease when administered along with regular cancer therapies. It may protect against cancers of the stomach, endometrium and lungs too.

A single serving of tomatoes a day is sufficient, but you may derive more benefit from tomato-based salsas or sauces since the availability of lycopene is increased with light cooking.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has been linked with heart health, but it may even help prevent certain types of cancers. Lab studies have shown that the catechins, polyphenols and proanthocyanidins in pure chocolate may prevent the formation of tumors and retard the growth and proliferation of cancers.

Although eating some dark chocolate may offer cancer protection, many types contain sugar and other fattening substances like cocoa butter that may not be all that great to have on a daily basis. Be sure that you purchase dark chocolate with at leat 80% cacao.

Not only will the foods mentioned above help to keep cancer at bay, they will increase your overall health and wellness by boosting immunity and supplying plenty of rich vitamins and minerals.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2208084?dopt=Abstract http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24160296