I spent last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Nutrition, which is one of my favorite annual education meetings that I attend every year. The focus this year was on “Disrupting Cancer”.
The conference has been great, and I’d like to share some of the key take-home points I heard. Not only was the conference content worth hearing, but I also managed to get to the gym every morning, ate fantastic food served during the breaks, and had a fantastic time dancing with friends I have know for years.
Here are the top four tips I heard to help you prevent cancer.
1. Get your Vitamin D
Vitamin D suppresses the formation of cancer cells and blocks cancer cell growth. If you fail to meet your vitamin D needs, you are basically increasing your chance of getting cancer by 40-60%. In particular, dangerous cancers are very sensitive to vitamin D levels, including cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, and pancreas.
Most people need at least 2000 IU of vitamin D every day, and some people will need 3000 to 5000 IU of vitamin D every day. The goal is not to just take the pill, but to achieve a vitamin D blood level (25-OH vitamin D level) that is at least 40 ng/ml and ideally 50-60 ng/ml. From the lecture by Dr. Cedric Garand, we heard that a level of 40 ng/ml decreases the risk of many cancers by 40-50%, and a level of 50-60 ng/ml decreases your cancer risk by 50-80%. That is a HUGE reduction in cancer risk from such a safe, inexpensive, and simple therapy, so don’t miss this opportunity.
Vitamin D is very safe. Although excess is not better, and if you take higher dosages, you do need to confirm that your level does not exceed 100, as levels above 100 ng/ml are associated with rare health problems, which I have never seen unless somebody was taking more than 7000 IU daily long term.
Vitamin D Take Home Message: Take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D daily, up to 5000 IU daily, and after 3-6 months of daily intake, check your vitamin D blood level to ensure you are getting the right amount of vitamin D.
2. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables
Colorful fruits and vegetables have pigments, called carotenoids and flavonoids, and eating more of these pigments reduces your risk for cancer.
• lycopene (red-orange pigment in watermelon and tomatoes)
• beta-carotene (orange pigment in carrots)
• lutein ( the green pigment in green leafy veggies)
Take Home Message: Eating five cups of colorful fruits and vegetables daily will decrease your risk of multiple cancers.
3. Get mixed folates (to promote methylation) from a multivitamin
B vitamins (folates) provide methyl groups which repair DNA damage. When we lack adequate methylation, our cellular DNA accumulates damage over time, cells grow in unrestrictive ways, and cancer cells are far more likely to grow and expand. Bathing your DNA with methyl groups basically tells your cells to stop growing when they touch neighbor cells and to behave. When you are methyl-deficient, cells lack the appropriate growth regulation and are more likely to convert into cancer cells with unrestricted growth.
Even taking a poor quality source of a multivitamin with folic acid (one specific form of folate) has been shown in large randomized trials to lower your risk for cancer, and from dying from cancer too.
Even better would be taking a good quality multivitamin with mixed folates (not just folic acid) as 40% of people have a limited ability to convert folic acid to the more active forms of folate, such as 5-methylenetetrahydrofolate.
Take Home Message: Take a good quality multivitamin with mixed folates (not just folic acid) and aim to get 400 to 800 mcg of mixed folates daily.
4. Eat cruciferous veggies (they contain sulforaphane)
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy are cruciferous vegetables that contain an important compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane not only lowers inflammation and oxidative stress, but it also inhibits cancer cell growth.
Clearly, the most potent source for sulforaphane comes from broccoli sprouts—which are easy to grow on your own and can be blended with your daily smoothie, or sprinkled on a salad.
Not only are there sulforaphane compounds in cruciferous vegetables, but there is also a critical enzyme (myrosinase) that make sulforaphane active inside the human body, and this enzyme is destroyed by excessive heat. Just taking a sulforaphane supplement without this enzyme won’t work, so if you don’t eat these foods and prefer to take a sulforaphane supplement—make sure it comes with myrosinase as well.
You can lightly steam or cook cruciferous veggies (they need to be a bit crunchy when you chew them, basically still al dente), but if you overcook them and they become soft, the myrosinase will be destroyed and they will have lost their cancer-fighting properties.
Take home message: Eat at least one cup of raw or lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables every day. For the greatest benefit, try eating ¼ to ½ cup of broccoli sprouts daily.
To your best health,
Steven Masley, MD