Recent research has shown that eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day is linked to a 2.5 per cent reduction in the risk of cancer. This ´5 a day´ plan originated in 1990 when the World Health Organisation suggested it to help prevent cancer and other chronic illnesses. The 5-a-day plan has been promoted in America for over 20 years and in Britain for ten.
The new research study led by researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, analysed 500,000 Europeans from 10 countries and showed that an extra two portions of fruit and vegetables each day could prevent 2.6 per cent of cancers in men and 2.3 per cent of cases in women. (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). Lifestyle factors such as exercise and smoking were accounted for in the research.
The majority of media commentators have seized on these figures, seeing them as low and concluding that Government and cancer charities´ advice is poor.
Some experts are not so negative. Dr Rachel Thompson, Science Programme Manager for World Cancer Research Fund, said: This study suggests that if we all ate an extra two portions of fruits and vegetables a day, about 2.5 per cent of cancers could be prevented. Given the fact that there are many types of cancer where there is no evidence eating fruits and vegetables affects risk, it is not surprising that the overall percentage is quite low. But for the UK, this works out as about 7,000 cases a year, which is a significant number.
Food, Glorious food time to ´come clean´
CANCERactive´s Chris Woollams commented, Research like this tends to prompt quick, headline-grabbing responses, when in fact it needs to be put in the context of other knowledge and research findings. For example:
- We already know that people are completely confused about what a ´portion´ of fruit and vegetables means. Research showed that in the USA, people considered fried chips (French Fries) to be a ´vegetable´. Equally 5 helpings of rice or potatoes were also seen in another study to ´fit the requirement´. This is nonsense.
We advocate that nothing beats fruit and vegetables for providing not just the vitamins and minerals that are essential to nourishing your body but co-factors, enzymes and other essential building blocks like amino acids. But it is quite clear that
a) Research shows mass market produce is weaker in providing important levels of, say, vitamins and minerals than it was 100 years ago as our soils become depleted and crop rotation ceases to be the norm. And,
b) Research followed up by the European Union experts resulted in conclusions that pesticides, for example, ´can be harmful to health and be a cause of cancer´. CANCERactive only recently reported on the effects of pesticides causing ´sticky proteins´ (MUGS) and increasing the risk of Multiple Myeloma in the over 50´s. The benefits of mass market vegetables and fruits may be being negated by the chemicals . And,
c) Research shows that organic food provides significant levels of cancer fighting natural compounds, hardly present in mass market produce (For example, resveratrol formed in grape skins in response to attacks by moulds and fungus. These are not present when fungicides are used to spray the crop)
- We advocate the Mediterranean Diet and focusing on variety as particularly important when consuming fruit and vegetables. No one natural compound, any more than one single drug is ever likely to prevent or beat the multi-step process that is cancer. However individual steps have been shown to be neutralised by individual natural compounds. For example carotenoids (in red and yellow peppers), indole 3 carbinol (in broccoli), anthocyanins (in beetroot, red plums, aubergines), phenols (in green tea, olive oil), allycin (in garlic, onions, leeks), curcumin (turmeric), and polysaccharides (in mushrooms) and other natural compounds have all been shown to act against aspects of cancer.
- The role of beneficial bacteria has been shown in Clinical Trials to be crucial to your good health, as they alone control the release of important cancer-fighting compounds like sodium butyrate, vitamin K, biotin, folic acid and vitamin B-12 from your foods. People on drugs, especially antibiotics, or who have excessive yeasts and consume fruits during the day, will worsen the performance of these beneficial bacteria. The research did not use controls for such groups.
- We have long maintained that the stance of Health Bodies and Cancer Charities who suggest that 50 per cent of all cancers are your own fault so don´t smoke, eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, take exercise, stay out of the sun, and avoid excess alcohol is not just nave but misses crucial possible causes of cancer completely. Many cancers have been linked to chemical toxins be they work place, environmental, pesticides, or even in your household and personal care products. This new research has to be put in context. Why would people expect 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day to prevent cancer if the cause was actually an Electromagnetic or chemical toxin? This research highlights the need for leading cancer charities to ´come clean´ on this issue.
To experts at CANCERactive this research just highlights how there is no single disease called cancer your cancer is as individual as you are. Some cancers (for example, some colorectal cancers) may be caused by an excess of fatty foods and alcohol, whilst omega 3 in fish oils and vitamin D from sunshine can help prevent their growth. Neither is strongly found in mass market produce.
However, in other cancers fruit and vegetables may help: For example, Harvard research has shown the benefits of natural lycopene from cooked tomatoes and indole 3 carbinol from broccoli to be of benefit to preventing (and even reducing the symptoms of) some prostate cancers. However, other cancers like some lymphomas, some multiple myelomas and some leukaemia cases are definitely increased by exposure to chemicals so it is hard to see how eating fruit and vegetables could ever prevent or reverse those.
Frankly, if out of the total number of cancer cases in the UK – currently 2 million people have the disease – if 2.5 per cent could have prevented it even by eating 2 extra portions of potatoes, white rice and mass market produce a day it is a start that´s 50,000 people in Britain today, without the worry of cancer and a huge saving off the NHS health and drugs bill. To put this in context, ´2.5 per cent of people beating cancer´ is a higher number of people than was found to have benefited from all chemotherapy drugs in both Australia and America, according to an Australian analysis of research covered in Cancer Watch a couple of years ago. And Cancer Charities and Oncologists endorse and recommend these expensive chemotherapy drugs.
Furthermore, imagine what could happen if people understood more about nourishment and exactly what vegetables to eat talking about a Rainbow Diet would help; as would coming clean about the benefits of organic food and natural compounds. But cancer prevention education needs to start in schools. It is something we proposed, complete with lessons in detail, but the UK Government funders turned us down.
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