By Brian Rose
Plant-Based Protection from Cancer – A Plant-Based Diet consists of minimally processed foods derived from plants with few or no animal-based food including, fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, and legumes. Research studies have shown that a plant-based diet is protective against 15 leading causes of death in the world. Most of these leading causes, including cancer, can be prevented by nutrition and lifestyle. The preventable factors include smoking, excess weight, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for around 9.6 Million deaths in 2018. The Plant-Based Diet has been shown to protect against most cancers. Extensive studies have been carried out on the effects of plant-based diets on prostate, breast gastrointestinal, and colorectal cancer and provide supporting evidence. It has also been seen that nutritional interventions in adjunct to medical therapies offer significant benefits in preventing various cancers.
How the Plant-Based Diet Protects Against Cancer?
According to the literature on diet and cancer reviewed by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), it is clear that processed foods and red meat increase the risk of various cancers while plant-based diet protects or decreases the risk of most cancers. It is also seen that obesity is linked with some types of cancers, including the esophagus, breast, pancreas, endometrium, kidney, and colorectum. There is also evidence that weight gain increases the risk of cancer co-morbidities and recurrence. Individuals consuming plant-based diets have 3 to 20 percent less weight as compared to those consuming meat products. It means that a plant-based diet keeps the individuals in a healthy weight range, thereby reducing the risk of obesity-related cancers.
The other way in which a plant-based diet is protective against cancer is by enhancing immunity. This type of diet is rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. These all work together to keep the body cells healthy and boost immune cells to function at their best. This boost in immune function is vital for reducing cancer risk because the immune cells detect mutations and attack them without letting them progress to disease. The phytochemicals and antioxidants also reduce inflammation and neutralize the toxins from processed foods, pollution, bacteria, viruses, and more. Prolonged inflammation can damage the body cells and is also linked to cancer. Eating a plant-based diet reduces inflammation and improves immunity protecting against cancer.
Plant-based foods are also high in fiber, which is also known to reduce the risk of cancer. Fiber is essential to maintain good gut health so your gut can absorb essential nutrients from a diet beneficial to health and immunity. The fiber in plant-based food is important to reduce colorectal cancer risk. Research has shown that individuals consuming 10% of fiber lower their risk of developing colon cancer by 10%.
Lowers IGF-1 Levels
Eating a plant-based diet also lowers the levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) in the body. Animal protein is the major source of IGF-1 that contributes to cell growth. So, the higher the level of IGF-1 in the blood, the higher are the chances of cancer development. Reducing intake of animal-based food and increasing plant-based food ultimately lowers levels of IGF-1 and cancer risk. A study has shown that reducing the intake of animal proteins for 11 days lowers the levels of IGF-1 by 20%. Vegetarians who consume animal-related products like eggs and dairy have not shown a significant cancer-protective reduction in IGF-1 because animal protein from any source stimulates IGF-1 production.
● A 15-year long study was carried out to study the relation between diet and cancer by Oxford University involving 60,000 Britishers (men and women). Among them, 18000 individuals were vegetarian, and 2,246 were vegan. The study concluded that cancer incidence in vegetarians is 11% lower, and in vegans, 19% lower than meat consumers. Thus, the study showed that vegetarians have an 18% lower incidence of cancer than meat-eaters.
● Campbell and Junshi in 1994, based on the Cornell-Oxford China study, reported that various medical illnesses including, brain, breast, lung, and colon cancer, leukemia, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems were all associated with diets rich in proteins, animal fat, eggs, meat, and milk. In contrast, a diet rich in antioxidants and fiber (plant-based) was shown to have a protective role in the diseases mentioned above.
● In 2013 Abdull Razis and Noor investigated cruciferous vegetables’ preventive effect against breast, lung, colorectal, and prostate cancer. They found out that these vegetables are rich in glucosinolates, a sulfur-containing glycoside that breaks down to produce isothiocyanates. Both these compounds modulate the enzymes that are responsible for cancer prevention.
● Analysis from studies conducted in Italy and Switzerland presented in 2012, stating that certain cancers’ risk is significantly reduced by consuming cruciferous vegetables at least once a week.
● A research was conducted in 2006 to determine the effects of a plant-based diet and physical activity on apoptosis and tumor cell growth. The research showed that blood samples taken from individuals after consuming two weeks of a plant-based diet and performing physical activity were able to suppress tumor growth and kill 20 to 30 percent more malignant cells than the sample taken from individuals before two weeks of healthy eating and living.
● Numerous studies have shown a higher risk of GI cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colorectal cancer with increased red meat and animal fat intake. 30% increased risk of ovarian cancer is also seen by consuming animal fats compared to eating plant-based foods.
Diet is one of the common factors in causing various medical illnesses, including cancer. Changing dietary patterns to include plant-based foods will subsequently decrease cancer risk and lower the risk factors leading to cancer development. A diet rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, nutrients, and minerals will not only protect against cancer but is also beneficial to general health. Dietary and lifestyle changes, along with therapeutic management of cancer, will also minimize the risk of recurrence and co-morbidities. A plant-based diet enhances immune function and decreases body weight, both of which are essential for combating many serious medical illnesses, including cancer.