Cancer Healing Foods
Several food groups that contain the specific nutrients needed to support the healing of breast cancer include allium vegetables, berries, brassica vegetables, cacao, citrus, herbs and spices, soy, stone fruit, and tea.
These power foods contain phytochemicals that affect breast cancer in specific ways.
• Reducing oxidation
• Reducing inflammation
• Inducing apoptosis
• Regulating carcinogen metabolism
• Managing epigenetic pathways
• Inhibiting DNA binding and cell adhesion
• Inhibiting cancer cell division, growth, and migration
Power Food Groups/Servings Per Day
Servings suggestions that guide the number of servings to eat each day from each food group below, are provided as specific nutrients can only be obtained when eaten in concentration on a regular basis.
This looks like a lot of food to eat daily when you add up servings, but there is overlap in food groups. For example, legumes provide protein, carbohydrates, and flavonols, and fish provide protein and essential fatty acids. Salads, stews, and soups pack in the vegetable servings.
Power Food Groups
The following list was created based on research that found that daily intake of these food groups provides enough nutrients to affect breast cancer when eaten in concentrations and daily.
The serving sizes have been determined based on the amount fed to subjects daily in intervention studies. Of course, we still benefit from eating these foods occasionally, but studies suggest that eating them daily maximizes their benefits.
2 tablespoons nuts (e.g.: walnuts)
2 tablespoons seeds (e.g. chia or hemp)
6 cups of water (e.g. filtered water)
2 cups tea (e.g. green tea)
1 citrus fruit (e.g. mandarin orange)
½ cup of carotenoid-rich foods (e.g. apricot or tomato sauce)
½ cup berries (e.g. wild blueberries)
Aim for 65-125 grams per day from plant foods primarily
2 cups legumes (e.g.: beans, peas, or lentils)
3 tablespoons protein powder (e.g.: rice-, pea-, or hemp-based)
1 cup greens (e.g. spinach or kale)
1 cup brassica vegetables (e.g. broccoli or cauliflower)
1 cup fresh herbs (e.g. basil leaves or cilantro)
½ cup cooked legumes (e.g. black beans or lentils)
½ cup fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut)
½ cup allium vegetables (e.g. onions)
1 tablespoon dried herbs (e.g. rosemary)
1 teaspoon dried spices (e.g. turmeric)
1 cup lignan-rich grain (e.g. oats, barley, spelt, or rye)
Alliums include garlic, leeks, onions, and scallions. Allium family vegetables contain organosulfur compounds and are in concentrated amounts in raw garlic, garlic oil, dried garlic (flakes, powder, granules), and pills of aged garlic extract.
Generally speaking, those who consume the most onions and garlic have been found to have the lowest incidence of breast cancer. They also support overall immune function. For example, onions contain oils that help prevent viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.
Garlic contains oleanolic acid (aka oleanic acid) which reduces growth of breast cancer cells. Garlic supplements (aged garlic in capsules) were found to also arrest cell growth (Modem, 2012). And diallyl trisulfide, which is a biologically active constituent of garlic that induces apoptosis and inhibits migration of breast cancer cells (Chandra-Kunal, 2013. Garlic can improve overall health and prognosis (Limon-Miro, 2019).
Brassica vegetables contain powerful nutrients that have a direct effect on hormone regulation. These hearty and fragrant vegetables are also known as cruciferous or mustard family and include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, cress, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnips, wasabi, and watercress.
Brassica vegetables are a good source of alpha- and beta-carotenes as well as xanthophyll. Both reduce oxidative stress and free radicals which protect cells from pre-cancerous mutations.
Brassica are rich in indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and diindolylmethane (DIM), which regulate sex hormone homeostasis and may reduce breast cancer risk. I3C is a natural anti-carcinogenic compound found at high concentrations in all brassica vegetables. ER-positive and Her2 cell lines have demonstrated the greatest sensitivity to the anti-tumor effects of I3C and its more potent metabolites.
Brassica vegetables contain sulforaphane and isothiocyanate molecules shown to destroy breast cancer cells in laboratory studies. They also contain glucosinolates, which help reduce the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women with estrogen-dependent cancer by reducing the amount of excess estrogen in their systems. Adding brassica vegetables to the diet of postmenopausal women reduces the level of estrogen metabolites that promote breast tumor growth.
Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, black currants, black chokeberries, lingonberries, cherries, raspberries, and grapes. These fruits contain antioxidants called anthocyanins that have been found to inhibit the growth and decrease the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Researchers believe the combination of carotenoids, anthocyanins, and high levels of vitamin C in berries has a synergistic effect, enhancing the health effects of each nutrient.
There is strong evidence that several phytochemicals present in berries including cyanidin, delphinidin, quercetin, kaempferol, ellagic acid, resveratrol, and pterostilbene interact with and alter the effects of the estrogen-receptor and tyrosine kinase-receptor pathways. These pathways play a significant role in the development of both primary and recurrent breast cancer.
Blueberries contain pterostilbene, which suppresses breast cancer stem cells. Blueberry powder was found to have a significant anti-inflammatory effect in animal studies and provides protection against metastasis (Kanaya, 2014). Blueberries also help inhibit the growth of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a particularly aggressive and hard-to-treat breast tumor. Wild blueberries are smaller, richer in flavor and contain twice the antioxidants of common blueberries (Dinstel, 2013).
Cherries contain melatonin, which acts as an antioxidant, reducing oxidation that can lead to inflammation that promotes breast cancer development. Tart cherry juice was found to reduce breast cancer cell numbers in lab studies in human breast cancer cells (Martin, 2012).
Cranberries are the edible fruit of a small evergreen shrub. Raw cranberries and cranberry juice are abundant food sources of the flavonoids proanthocyanidins, flavonols, and quercetin.
Currants and their juice are rich in polyphenols and contain significantly lower amounts of sugar than most berries. For this reason, currant juice is an excellent juice to use in smoothies.
Grape skins contain high levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol, a naturally occurring stilbene, has a number of beneficial effects, including anticancer, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiestrogenic activity. Resveratrol also directly inhibits histone acetyltransferases, enzymes involved in breast cancer. Studies suggest that grape skin polyphenols are particularly effective in preventing metastatic breast cancer.
Strawberry polyphenols have also been found to inhibit breast cancer tumors and induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells. These berries are especially rich in ellagic acid, a phytochemical that reduces the harmful effects of estrogen on estrogen-sensitive cancers and has the ability to stimulate apoptosis of breast cancer cells.
Black raspberries contain exceptionally high levels of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid has an epigenetic effect in reversing breast cancer (Mungal, 2013).
Wild blueberries and black raspberries contain phytochemicals that inhibit the hormones and reduce tumor growth. These nutrients also have an epigenetic effect and down regulate CYP1A1 expression and ERα expression effectively.
Unsweetened, organic, cocoa powder is rich in nutrients that selectively inhibit the proliferation of human breast cancer cells.
Cocoa contains pentameric procyanidin which has been found to cause cell cycle arrest in human breast cancer cells. It directly affects genetic pathways and inhibits cellular proliferation with the site-specific dephosphorylation or down-regulation of several cell cycle regulatory proteins.
A diet rich in unsweetened cocoa significantly reduces inflammation in cancer patients. Polyphenolic compounds in cocoa also provide an epigenetic effect and have been shown to directly manage CYP1A1 polymorphism (Oleaga, 2012).
Citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, and limes contain nutrients that fight breast cancer and are preferentially concentrated in the breast tissue. For example, a study on limonene, found in citrus peel oil, on early-stage breast cancer resulted in dramatically reduced cell proliferation. Citrus also contains the bioactive nobiletin which has an epigenetic effect that provides protection against metastasis (Baek, 2012). Citrus fruits also contain naringenin, which has a proapoptotic effect (destroys breast cancer cells) even in those who have been exposed to bisphenol from plastics (Lee, 2009).
HERBS AND SPICES
Herbs and spices contain concentrated bioactives including phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, stilbenes, curcuminoids, coumarins, lignans, and quinones.
Daily intake of fresh and dried herbs may help neutralize free radicals and protect cells from the oxidative stress that can lead to cancerous mutations. Herbs and grape seed extract contain compounds that reduce levels of free radicals which are unhealthy compounds that promote abnormal cell growth.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a leafy plant with anticancer and inhibitory activity against breast cancer cell development. Basil leaves contain phenolic compounds that reduce breast cancer development by arresting the cell cycle; regulating carcinogen metabolism and ontogenesis expression; inhibiting DNA binding and cell adhesion, migration, proliferation or differentiation, and blocking signaling pathways. Eugenol, which is also found in basil leaves, induces apoptosis which is the destruction of cancer cells. Basil leaf extracts were also found to modulate glucose metabolism, by reducing the amount of glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream which helps starve breast cancer cells. When the extract was given to mice with breast cancer, the cytostatic effects produced an 80% decrease in breast cancer cell growth in just 24 hours (Torres, 2018). These natural compounds in basil have shown repeatedly that they reduce breast cancer in numerous and specific ways.
Rosemary intake reduces levels of free radicals and reduces inflammation. When combined with curcumin, an active compound is found in turmeric, carnosic acid is even more effective at reducing breast cancer cell growth. Carnosic acid has also been found to inhibit the growth of ER- human breast cancer cells (Einbond, 2012). This natural compound also modulates estrogen and epidermal receptors, providing genetic protection (Gonzalez-Vallinas, 2014). Rosmarinic acid extracts have potent activity against breast cancer cells in laboratory studies. Both fresh and dried rosemary are rich sources of this natural phenolic compound.
Sage, lavender, and thyme (fresh or dried) are rich in polyphenol antioxidants that may reduce levels of free radicals. Thyme contains rosmarinic acid and methyl apigenin, which have been found to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions against human breast cancer cells.
Spices are made from the seeds and nuts of plants and are primarily used for flavoring. Spices that have been studied for their anticancer properties include allspice, black pepper, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, mustard, nutmeg, rosemary, saffron, turmeric, and vanilla.
Allspice is not a mixture of spices, but a spice all on its own. It contains eugenol, which has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and has also shown anticancer effects in studies.
Black cumin (nigella sativa) seeds are an exceptional source of thymoquinone, which has been found to reduce the migration of breast cancer cells (Bhattacharya, 2015).
Black pepper contains a chemical called piperine that can help regulate inflammation and may also help the immune system fight cancer. Piperine also inhibits angiogenesis.
Caraway reduces free radicals, lowers oxidative stress, and may also inhibit cancer cell growth.
Cardamom contains high amounts of limonene, a bioactive food component that concentrates in breast tissues and has chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic activities. The combination of black pepper and cardamom can stimulate healthy immune function. The two spices in combination help the body regulate the inflammatory response, reduce the risk of cancer, and help fight existing cancer cells.
Cinnamon is high in antioxidants, as are cloves. Animal studies suggest that cloves may have anticancer effects, but this has not been studied in humans.
Cumin contains thymoquinone, a compound reported to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties as well as the ability to suppress tumor growth.
Mustard seeds are a rich source of phytonutrients called glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, both of which have anti-cancer effects. Mustard seeds also provide the anti-inflammatory chemicals selenium and magnesium.
Saffron has been shown in many studies to have strong anticancer qualities, both in preventing cancer from developing and inhibiting the growth of tumors.
Turmeric contains curcumin a compound that has several pharmacologic effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and epigenetic anti-cancer activities (Deguchi, 2015).
Vanilla beans and their extracts contain vanillin, a natural bioactive that has been found to protect against cell invasion and metastasis of breast cancer cells.
Apricots, figs, nectarines, peaches, plums, and prunes are available in the produce department of most grocery stores during the summer months in the United States. The pit must be removed but the skin is edible. Stone fruit juices and nectars contain high levels of antioxidants. Nectars contain 100 percent juice without additives. Look for nectars and juices that are in glass bottles rather than plastic. Dried stone fruit without sulfite is preferable as many people are sensitive to sulfites.
Apricots contain antioxidants that can reduce precancerous cell changes, which have the potential to become breast tumors. Higher blood carotenoid levels are associated with lower numbers of cell markers of oxidative stress. The carotenoids alpha-carotene and lycopene inhibit breast cancer growth due to their ability to reduce cellular oxidation (Bhuvaneswari, 2005). Carotenoids also support remission as they are associated with reduced levels of oxidative stress in women previously treated for breast cancer.
Peaches and plums contain antioxidants that kill breast cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. The positive effect is likely caused by chlorogenic and neocholorogenic acid, both found in particularly high levels in both fruits.
Peaches are another good source of carotenoids. Peaches also contain ellagic acid, which has been found to reverse certain types of breast cancer cells (Munagala, 2013). Researchers have also discovered that a higher intake of berries and peaches reduces the risk of estrogen-mediated breast cancer among postmenopausal women.
Plums (and prunes, which are dried plums) contain antioxidant polyphenols, shown to interfere with cancer cell replication in laboratory studies. Concentrated extracts from plums containing polyphenols are effective in causing apoptosis in laboratory studies. Plums are currently being studied for their isatin content, which is showing promising antiproliferative effects on human breast cancer cells.
The only preparation tip to keep in mind is that the pits or seeds inside the fruit must be removed before eating.
Many studies have shown that drinking green tea regularly reduces the risk of breast cancer (Donejko, 2013). One of the most well-studied and beneficial components in green tea is the polyphenols called catechins that can reduce the growth and spread of breast cancer cells (Braicu, 2013). Green tea catechins also modulate breast cell carcinogenesis and have proven to be especially effective in ER-cancer types (Crew, 2014). Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a major green tea catechin, suppresses breast tumor angiogenesis and growth (Gu, 2013). Catechins may also protect bones from breast cancer-induced destruction. Human breast cancer cell studies have shown that EGCG inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells via an epigenetic effect with no significant toxicity to normal cells (Tyagi, 2015). Romanian researchers have shown that EGCG suppresses the growth, migration, and invasion of human breast cancer cells. The research is sufficient that we can clearly see that catechins from green tea reduce the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, however, the amount of tea needed to produce these effects is still being studied. Until we know more, aim for one to two cups of green tea per day.
White tea is a rich source of catechins and polyphenols that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which have been demonstrated to possess strong antimutagenic properties. Extracts of white tea inhibited the carcinogenic action of heterocyclic amine compounds (like those formed from frying foods), which are associated with increased cancer risk.
Tea Brewing Instructions
Brew loose-leaf or bagged tea following the package instructions: Steep the tea for just under two minutes. By removing the leaves from the brewed tea at this point, you retain the maximum amount of protective catechins without extracting undesirable components like bitter tannins and excess caffeine.
Tea can be frozen in ice cube trays to make tea cubes that can be stored for months and added to smoothies. Steep green or white tea let it cool, and then pour the tea into stainless steel or silicone ice cube trays. Once frozen, simply pop the cubes into food storage bags where they will stay fresh in the freezer for months.