In this section of our Guide to Cervical Cancer Prevention, you will find a collection of diet tips that may help women reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer. However, before getting into the tips, let’s take a quick look at what cervical cancer is:
Cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix) is the second most common cancer in women. In 2009, an estimated 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and an estimated 4,000 women will die from this slow- growing cancer. The cervix is the narrow part of the uterus through which babies are born. Cervical cells can go through many types of changes, most of which are harmless and not related to cancer. These changes can be caused by a number of factors, including HPV infection. HPVs (human papillomaviruses) are a group of more than 100 related viruses, many of which can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. About 15 types of the 100 types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.
In most cases, however, HPV infections go away on their own. But sometimes, especially when the levels of the female hormone estrogen are abnormally high, cells infected with HPV turn into precancerous cells, which can become cancer. Instead of dying, the cervical cancer cells outlive normal cells, invade adjacent tissues, and sometimes spread to other parts of the body via lymph or blood (process called metastasis). So-called pap tests are performed by health care professionals to identify abnormal changes in the cervical cells.
Although a HPV infection is the most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer, it is not the only one. Research suggests that other factors, such as smoking and having given birth to many children, may also increase the risk of cervical cancer. Furthermore, certain dietary factors, described below, may influence the risk of cervical cancer. The paragraphs below describe 10 great diet tips that can help reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Important notice: The information on this page and elsewhere on this website has not been reviewed by dieticians or medical professionals, and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of a professional health care provider.
#1: Choose Low Glycemic Foods
Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of the ability of carbohydrate-rich foods to raise blood sugar (glucose). Foods that are slowly digested — such as most non-starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit — encourage stable blood glucose levels and have a low Glycemic Index rating. Foods that break down quickly, including most refined carbohydrate-rich foods and potatoes, cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels and are rated high on the Glycemic Index. Diets rich in high-Gi carbohydrates have been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer. This link is likely to be related to the ability of high-GI foods to stimulate the production of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF), two hormones that have been shown to promote tumor proliferation, progression, and spreading within the body.
#2: Avoid Excess Protein
Already at the beginning of the 20th century, John Beard, a Scottish cancer researcher, proposed that the body’s primary defense against proliferating cancer cells is pancreatin. Pancreatin is essentially a mix of protein-digesting enzymes, but these enzymes also have another purpose: the eradication of cancer. Diets that are extremely rich in protein keep the pancreatic emzymes busy digesting protein, which means that little time is left for these enzymes to fight cervical cancer. Experts suggest that the body needs a protein-free period of approximately 12 hours a day in order to combat cancer efficiently.
#3: Eat Foods That Deliver I3C
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts have long been touted for their ability to prevent cancer, including cervical cancer. The cancer-fighting properties of cruciferous vegetables largely attributable to indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a natural compound that occurs in cruciferous vegetables when they are chopped, crushed, or chewed. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to promote the detoxification of many harmful substances, including carcinogens, and to have strong antioxidant properties. Moreover, indole-3-carbinol appears have anti-estrogenic activitieswhich may provide additional protection against cervical cancer.
#4: Count on Curcumin
Curcumin, a phytochemical that gives turmeric its bright yellow color, has been shown to be capable of fighting almost any type of cancer. Researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology (ICPO) near New Nelhi in India recently discovered that curcumin can also help fight cervical cancer by protecting the body from the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the main cause of uterine and cervical cancer. Curcumin appears to arrest the development of cervical cancer by inactivating the HPV that lurks inside cervical cancer cells.
#5: Consume Foods That Provide Ellagic Acid
In the battle against cervical cancer, ellagic acid may well be your best weapon. Scientific evidence suggests that ellagic acid can effectively eliminate cervical cancer causing substances by activating certain detoxifying enzymes in the body. Ellagic acid also seems to be able to prevent carcinogens from attaching to cellular DNA. Furthermore, ellagic acid has been shown to stimulate the immune system to destroy cancerous cells and to induce normal self-destruction of human cancer cells. Ellagitannin — which is converted into ellagic acid by the body — is found in a number of red fruits and berries, raspberries being one of the best dietary sources of this extraordinary cervical cancer fighting phytochemical. Also some nuts, such as walnuts and pecans, contain ellagic acid.
#6: Avoid Foods That Contain Nitrates
Nitrates are natural substances found in the air, surface water, ground water, soil, and plants. Food manufacturers also use nitrates are also to give processed and cured meat a deep red color. Once consumed, the body can convert nitrates into nitrites, which can turn into nitrosamines. Scientific evidence suggests that nitrosamines can cause cancer in humans. However, certain antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, have been shown to effectively inhibit nitrosamine formation. As vegetables usually contain large amounts of antioxidant substances, nitrosamine formation is usually not a concern when you eat vegetables and other plant foods. This is supported by epidemiological studies of human populations which show no link between a high consumption of nitrate-containing vegetables and cancer, but which indicate that diets rich in nitrate-containing processed foods can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
#7: Avoid Foods That May Be Contaminated with Aflatoxin
Select Fresh Grains, Nuts and Legumes. Some fungi that grow on food can produce carcinogenic substances during processing, storage, and transport. These substances include aflatoxin, a poison produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus. Aflatoxin may cause cervical cancer due to its ability to damage DNA. Peanuts are particularly susceptible to aflatoxin invasion, but also many other foods, including whole grains, legumes, and nuts may be contaminated. Aflatoxin is resistant to cooking and freezing, but you can greatly reduce your risk of exposure by:
|only consuming fresh seeds, nuts and grains (or at least you should avoid nuts and grains from last year’s harvest)|
|looking for signs of proper storage and avoiding foods from countries that have substandard storage requirements|
|discarding nuts that look or taste suspicious|
|eating green vegetables that are rich in chlorophyll — chlorophyll has been shown to reduce aflatoxins levels|
#8: Ensure a Sufficient Intake of Vitamin C and E
Vitamin C and vitamin E have strong antioxidant powers and properties that help boost the immune system. Therefore, a diet rich in vitamin C and vitamin E may help reduce your odds of developing cervical cancer. In addition to their antioxidant and immune sytem boosting activities, vitamin C and vitamin E can inhibit the formation of nitrosamine, a potentially carcinogenic substance. However, the impact of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation might be relevant only if there is no fat in the stomach: A group of researches replicated the chemical conditions of the upper stomach and measured the impact of vitamin C on the production of nitrosamines, both when fat was present in the stomach and when it was absent. In the absence of fat, vitamin C decreased the levels of nitrosamines, but when some fat was added, vitamin C actually boosted the formation of nitrosamines.
#9: Reduce Fat Intake, Especially From Animal Fat
Rich in arachidonic acid, animal fat has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. Arachidonic acid has been shown to enhance cancer growth and to facilitate its spread, and some studies suggest that arachidonic acid may also destroy immune cellsinvolved in the protection against cervical cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fatty fish, flaxseed and walnuts, are believed to have a protective effect against cervical cancer. However, even then you might want to limit the total intake of fat to approximately 20% of total caloric intake because all fatty acids stimulate the production of bile which may be converted into apocholic acid, a proven carcinogen, if a lot of fat stagnates in the gut for too long.
#10: Ensure a Sufficient Intake of Zinc
Zinc is a trace mineral vital to the production of more than 200 essential enzymes in the body, one of them being superoxide dismutase (SOD). The role of SOD in the antioxidant system of the body is well documented, indicating that this powerful enzyme may provide protection against cervical cancer by destroying harmful free radicals. In addition, zinc may also reduce the risk of cervical cancer by helping the immune system to eliminate abnormal or worn out cells before they multiply themselves and become potentially cancerous.