Diet & Nutrition

Phytonutrition: Disease Prevention through Food

Your mother always told you to eat your fruit and vegetables. It’s only common sense. And it’s only now that we are discovering why. Every day, new research comes to light that proves virtually without a doubt: fruit and vegetables contain powerful substances that can inhibit – and perhaps even prevent and reverse – many types of cancers.

These anti-carcinogens are called phytonutrients, and are present by the thousands in every fruit and vegetable we consume as part of our daily diet. And they are greeted as the next great hope in our battle to combat the ravages of modern-day diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Phyto Foods: A New Frontier in the Fight against Cancer

Nowhere is their potential more recognized than in our fight against the epidemic of cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the United States was so encouraged by early findings in the study of phytonutrients that it launched its own multimillion dollar study into phytonutrition.

The objective of the NCI’s Designer Foods Research Project is to isolate each specific phytonutrient in fruit, vegetables and other edible vegetation, and to develop a concentrated form of each phytofood for controlled testing with high-risk and cancer patients as a prevention and/or treatment for the disease.

According to Dr. Herbert Pierson, director of the study, once these phytonutrients are isolated, they would be engineered into their purest and most powerful form to provide consistent benefits to each patient for cancer-prevention and treatment. “Foods are complex substances,” says Pierson. “How it’s extracted, processed or prepared also plays a big role.”

Let Food Be Your Medicine: Maximize Your Consumption of Phyto Foods

Recently, pharmaceutical and health food companies have come up with new alternatives in the form of fruit and vegetable supplements which are basically a powdered form of the whole food. However, just as the phytonutrient content in whole foods can vary according to growing and production conditions, so the potency of these new phytofoods can vary unless their manufacture meets certain standardized criteria.

Unless strict attention and controls exist with respect to growing conditions, harvesting and drying of the fresh produce, the effectiveness of the final product may become subject to significant variations. When considering phytofood supplements, it is important to know how they were grown, processed, what is the ratio, what are the fillers.

Liquid extracts and tinctures are also available, primarily for herbal-based phytonutrients. However, both tinctures and extracts are usually alcohol-based, and tend to be less stable than powdered forms, both from the viewpoint of potency and standardization.

The Phytonutrient Performers

There are thousands of compounds in fruit and vegetables which protect us from various diseases and illnesses. Research to date has pinpointed several groups of produce that have been demonstrated to be particularly powerful as phytofoods.

Citrus Fruit

Apart from their high vitamin C content, citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges and pineapples contain a host of phytonutrients that are powerful in their inhibitive effect on cancerous mutations and growths. Amongst the phytonutrients most abundant in citrus fruit are betacryptoxanthin, coumarins, limonene, lycopene, monoterpenes and pectin, which is also abundant in apples, and seems to prevent malignant cells from clumping together and metastasizing.

In studies of laboratory animals, limonene has been shown to significantly reduce the growth of mammary tumours, and even to inhibit the formation of new growths. Limonene has also been shown to play a role in reducing inflammation that causes arthritis, asthma and other allergies.

The pineapple also contains a powerful enzyme called bromelain which seems to alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma and heart disease. Pineapple also contains manganese, which is a critical element in skeletal strength and the prevention of osteoporosis, particularly in women.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are those that belong to the cabbage family, including brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale. Cruciferous vegetables have been shown not only to be rich in vitamin C, but also high in indoles, dithiolthiones, monoterpenes, oltipraz and sulfides, sulforaphane. Cabbage also contains brassinin which has been shown in animal studies to decrease tumours of the skin and breasts.

Indoles facilitate the breakdown of estrogen and estriol, thus inhibiting the growth of breast cancer tumours. Dithiolthiones and oltipraz have also been shown to stimulate the production of glutathione enzymes which are also powerful antioxidants. Studies on animals also indicate that sulforaphane is an extremely effective agent in reducing breast cancer.

Umbelliferous Vegetables

As with the cruciferous family, umbelliferous vegetables such as carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips are a rich source of many phytonutrients. Scientists believe that to maximize their anticarcinogenic properties, it is best to ensure a combination of these vegetables that are rich in coumarins, monoterpenes, polyacetylenes and psoralens, substances which provide benefits ranging from cancer protection to helping with skin disorders such as psoriasis.

Yellow and Red-Fleshed Fruits and Vegetables

This family is particularly high in carotenoids which include antioxidants such as alpha and beta carotene, betacryptoxanthin and vitamin C. Fruits that fall into this family would include apricots, cantaloupe, cherries, mangoes, papayas and peaches. Vegetables would include carrots, tomatoes, red peppers and yellow-fleshed squash.

Berries in this category also contain catechins – found in green tea which also contains cancer-fighting flavonoids – that have been shown to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancers and can help to fight viral infections.

Antioxidants such as beta carotene reduce the risk of many forms of cancer including breast, colon and rectal cancers. In addition, red-fleshed fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes contain a powerful carotenoid called lycopene which has been directly linked to reduced risk of cervical cancer in women, as well as p-coumaric acid which blocks the formation of the carcinogen nitrosamine.

All that we need to maintain our health, to prevent and to cure disease exists in nature. Let’s use it.

Dr. Sharon Kopinak

Sharon Kopinak is a holistic veterinarian who treats animals with herbs, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine and magnets. She graduated in l966 from the Ontario Veterinary College and has practiced alternative veterinary medicine for the last 22 years. Sharon is widely regarded in the animal community as the best vet around. She has a practice in Rockwood, Ontario where people from all over the province come to have their dogs, cats, horses, birds and goats cared for naturally.

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