Cancer Prevention and Survival: Nutrition and Supplements

As part of Sun Acupuncture’s series on cancer, today we delve into foods, supplements and how we nourish ourselves.  Because there is a lot of information out there and new supplement claims can be made by just about anyone with a computer, we are going to focus on the recommendations of an expert panel whose job it is to analyze data for this very reason.  The 8 recommendations of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research on nutrition for the prevention of cancer are outlined below.  According to the panel, cancer survivors should follow the same recommendations to prevent recurrence.  Active cancer patients, on the other hand, should not seek any food-based cure for cancer as the evidence does not support it.

A personal note before these are laid out:  The spirit with which we go about our business is just as important as the business being done.  In other words, militant, joyless adherence to these guidelines rooted in fear will create a negative atmosphere in the body that can lend itself to dis-ease and injury.  It is of paramount importance that we enjoy our meals, share them with loved ones, and nourish our spirit as well as our body as a result.  Meal time should have a ceremony attached to it that prepares the body for digestion.  Cooking serves; having a special place to eat that is away from the TV serves; a prayer or quietness before the meal serves; and a certain gentle rhythm to the meal where food and drink are tasted and assimilated with conscious presence helps us gain the benefits of nutrition without knotting up our belly.  If you notice discomfort after a meal, consider not only the food that was eaten, but also the atmosphere in which it was eaten and this principle will come alive to you.  This is the Tao of eating!

 The 8 Recommendations of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research for Cancer Prevention through Nutrition

  1. Body Fatness
  • Be as lean as possible w/o being underweight
  • BMI goal 21-23
  1. Physical Activity
  • Be physically active as part of everyday life
  • Moderate activity-brisk walking >30 min every day
  1. Foods & Drinks that Promote Weight Gain
  • Limit consumption of energy-dense foods
  • Avoid sugary drinks
  • No ‘fast foods’
  1. Plant Foods
  • Eat mostly foods of plant origin
  • 5+ servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits every day
  1. Animal Foods
  • Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat   (11 oz/wk) very      little if any as processed
  1. Alcoholic Drinks
  • Limit alcoholic drinks
  • No more than 2 drinks/day for men and 1/day for women
  1. Preservation, Processing, Preparation
  • Limit salt consumption <6g/d particularly to prevent stomach CA
  • Avoid moldy cereals (grains) or pulses (legumes) that contain aflatoxins to      prevent liver CA
  1. Dietary Supplements
  • Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone
  • Dietary Supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention

A couple things jump out here.  For diet, adhering as closely as possible to a “mediterranean diet” has the most research behind it for the prevention of cancer.  See Sofi F, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008;337:a1344 for more information.

For supplements, there is not enough evidence to back up the claim that any supplement can prevent cancer.  That includes Wheat grass, Gogi, Noni, AÇAI, Pomegranate, Mangostin, EGCG/green tea, resveratrol, Vitamin A, C and E, selenium.  Research is still underway assessing the potential of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention as well as overall health benefits.  This is particularly important to us Minnesotans because we need sunlight to get it.  Other than that, the 20+ billion dollar supplement industry should be off the radar when considering its evidence in cancer prevention.  Spend your money on real, local, organic foods or evidenced cancer support modalities instead!

For more information on the evidence for these recommendations or to see the research for particular cancers see

Josh Eha, L.Ac, C.SMA is certified in “Acupuncture for the Cancer Patient” by the Integrative Oncology department of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  For the last decade, he has treated cancer patients at Scripps Center of Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California and in private practice.