Cancer Fighting Antioxidants and Phytochemicals

Julian Bakery nation!  In attempt to keep you cancer free, I’m going to continue diving right back into the cancer fighting antioxidants that are absolutely essential to every person’s diet.  Oxidative damage can cause a lot of stress on the body and will eventually lead to cancer.  In order to fight against the oxidative process, we need to know what foods contain phytochemicals and antioxidants so that we can eat those foods regularly in our diets. 

The best way to describe the oxidative process and how it affects our cells is to split an apple in half.  Rub one side of the apple with lemon juice, and leave the other side alone.  Over a short period of time you will see that the side without the lemon juice will become oxidized and brown, while the antioxidant properties of the lemon will preserve the other side keeping it in good shape.  The same idea works with our bodies.  When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce free radicals (by-products) that can cause damage.  Antioxidants attach to the free radicals, disabling them and repairing the damage they caused. 

If not addressed properly, the oxidation process causes a chain reaction and more free radicals are released which continue to cause destruction.  The body is able use antioxidants such as lycopene to neutralize free radicals; otherwise a runaway free radical oxidative cascade would eventually destroy the body.  If we are under high physical or emotional stress, we may need extra amounts of antioxidants to handle the increased free radicals.  When a cell’s DNA is damaged by oxidation due to free radicals, special enzymes repair the damage.  Dr. Bruce Ames, a biochemist and DNA researcher, estimates the number of oxidative hits to human DNA per cell per day is about 10,000.  Although our DNA repair enzymes are designed to clean up these lesions, they become less efficient over time and thus, unrepaired cell mutations begin to accumulate.  Dr. Ames finds smoking is a major oxidative stress as well as a source of increased mutagens, contributing to 33% of all cancers, 25% of heart disease and about 400,000 premature deaths per year in the U.S.  Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that both smokers and nonsmokers who ate diets high in tomatoes and carrots were 20 to 25% less likely to get lung cancer.  Although the toxic pollutants in cigarette smoke can alter most carotenoids, they do not appear to affect lycopene.  In a Columbia University study with lung cancer patients, the researchers found that those with the lowest blood levels of lycopene had triple the risk of cancer than those with high levels.  In his book, The Superantioxidants, Dr. James Balch sums up his studies that show lycopene’s anti-cancer properties: lycopene interferes with cancer cell communications so both cell growth and cell movement were delayed in lung, breast and endometrial cancer cells. 

Although lycopene is hands down the best antioxidant available, there are many others that also provide protection from oxidative damage and inflammation.  Here is a list of the most commonly known antioxidants: 

  • Vitamin A and Carotenoids – Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots (bright-colored fruits and vegetables!)
  • Vitamin C – Citrus fruits like oranges and lime etc, green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes
  • Vitamin E – Nuts & seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil and liver oil
  • Selenium – Fish & shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic 

Other great antioxidants that we use are actually plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties.  Phytochemicals are not required by the human body for sustaining life, however they have been found to protect humans against oxidative damage and diseases. There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are: 

Flavonoids / polyphenols

  • Soy
  • Red wine
  • Purple grapes or Concord grapes
  • Pomegranate
  • Cranberries
  • Tea

 Lycopene

 Lutein

  • Dark green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, kiwi, brussels sprout and spinach 

Lignan 

  • Flax seed
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Rye

As you can see, fruits and vegetables are essential to increasing antioxidant and phytochemical intake.  I have mentioned in a previous post that I believe we all need to change our mindset when it comes to fruits and veggies.  These cancer fighting super foods should be looked at as the entrée on our plate, not just a side.  It is recommended to eat at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits or vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber and in addition to cancer fighting, contribute to weight loss. So the next time you’re serving yourself a home cooked meal, try to scoop up more vegetables and take less meat.  

Due to the high amount of research occurring on these intriguing cancer fighting nutrients, you can expect that the food industry will soon bioengineer new strains of plants to include higher levels of phytochemicals.  Until then, you can reduce your exposure to oxidative stress by not smoking and avoiding sunburn and keep eating your fruits and veggies. 

Typically, supplements are just not as bioavailable as the nutrients we eat in our food.  However, if you prefer taking supplements, the Quantum Nutrition line is by far the most absorbable line of supplements available.  The two great antioxidant supplements that they make are the Tomato Concentrate with Lycopene, and the Premier Greens Mix.  Keep your oxidative stress low, your phytochemical intake high, and keep reading the Julian Bakery blog for more health information! 



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