Culinate

What are antiangiogenic foods?

Eat them to starve cancer

By
March 18, 2011

TEDx Manhattan recently hosted “Changing the Way We Eat,” a day-long event that brought together an impressive roster of individuals and organizations who are working on strategies and innovations to improve American eating habits and our food system.

Despite the complexity of this challenge, TEDx Manhattan speakers presented ideas that were inspiring, exciting, and positive, pushing toward high-impact changes in our health and eating habits.

Among these speakers was Dr. William Li, the president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation. Angiogenesis, by definition, is the formation of new blood vessels, miles of which are in the average adult human body. The continuous creation of new vessels can lead to the development and proliferation of cancer.

“Angiogenesis is what makes the difference between a small, innocuous cancer and a runaway, dangerous disease,” says Li. Our bodies carry thousands of microscopic dormant tumors on a constant basis. Thankfully, our immune systems naturally prevent them from becoming larger and potentially harmful through the process of angiogenesis and vessel growth.

Li came to the TEDx event to talk not about cancer itself but about the intersection between good food and good health — and particular foods that actually have the potential to “starve” cancer through the process of antiangiogenesis, preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor.

I confess that this concept was totally new to me. But having close relatives and friends who have fought cancer — all of whom are leading healthful lives today with wholesome diets — I was intrigued, on both a personal and a professional level, by Li’s research and his Eat to Defeat Cancer campaign.

Most of us have heard for years about the potential cancer-fighting benefits of antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, cherries, artichokes, apples, nuts, and green tea, to name a few. Li explained that research is still being conducted on whether antioxidants are significantly effective in preventing cancer. But his foundation’s research on foods that affect antiangiogenesis is compelling.

Studies have found that Asian-American women who ate soy at least once a week over their lifetimes reduced their breast-cancer risk by 60 percent. This finding turns on its head the standard notion that high soy consumption may increase the risk of breast cancer.

Chinese women who drank a cup of green tea three or more times a week lowered their colon-cancer risk by 34 percent. Other recent research finds that cocoa and chocolate are not only high in flavonols (antioxidants), but they also reduce markers of angiogenesis. Citrus and grapes bear similar traits.

All types of citrus, such as these cara cara oranges, are on Li’s list of antiangiogenic foods.

And here’s a newsworthy tidbit that should get cheese-obsessed foodies particularly excited: A marker in cheese known as vitamin K2 also has properties that inhibit tumor blood-vessel growth. A European study found that individuals who consumed higher quantities of cheese throughout their lives decreased their risk of cancer, particularly lung and prostate cancer. Specific types of northern European cheeses, such as Swiss Emmental, Dutch Gouda, and Jarlsberg, showed particular benefits.

Li’s foundation is not only looking at specific foods but also at how certain cooking and heating methods impact a food’s antiangiogenic capacity. You can stay updated and learn more about research and upcoming events at the Eat to Defeat website.

Can we take Li’s research and implement it into our daily diets without over-thinking things? Yes, and relatively easily. The good news is that if you’re basing your diet on fresh fruits and vegetables (like the many mentioned in Li’s list, above) and have a solid rotation of healthy oils, spices, some wine, chocolate, and cheese here and there, you’re well on your way to preventing disease risk.

Take notice of what’s not on the list, too: fried and processed foods and animal fats (save for a bit of that cheese). This isn’t surprising, of course, but it’s worth reiterating. Keeping ingredients and meals simple and varied can serve as a great dietary insurance policy.