Nutrition and Cancer

by Claire Vock

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a novel by Rebecca Skloot that we read in the beginning of this seminar. The book revolves around Henrietta Lacks, an African American women who lived in the 1950s. Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and during her treatment doctors took a sample from her, without consent, to try and culture her cells. The cells grew, unlike any others in the past, and at a very fast rate. Soon enough they were shipped all over the world and used for various discoveries and experiments. While that was an amazing advancement in the world of science, Henrietta's family did not know one bit about it. Years later they found out, and they were not happy about it

While sharing the family´s story, the book is very in depth when it comes to the scientific side of the story. We follow the cells from the lab where they were cultured and grown, to all their scientific accomplishments, to when the contaminated millions of dollars worth of other cells. Alternating between both sides of the story really made the all the information flow.

When Rebecca decided to write a book about Henrietta, she did not know how the family would react or how difficult they would be, but in the end an eye-opening story was formed. Society would never view her cells the same.


How Cells Become Cancerous

When cell are healthy, cell division is controlled. They divide and grow at a normal pace and know when they need to die. Cells become cancerous when they go through a genetic mutation, and they respond by dividing uncontrollably. These excess cells group together to form a tumor. However, doesn't process seem too easy? That´s because there is more to it. Cells can start dividing uncontrollably all the time, but normally the immune system fights and kills these cells quickly. To be cancerous the cells have to have the right combination of genetic mutations that not only allow them to divide uncontrollably, but allow them to be immortal and travel throughout the body. The cells become immortal because the chromosomes no longer get shorter, and the signal that tells them to commit ¨cell suicide¨ gets cut off. This process of cell suicide is also known as apoptosis. These mutations can also give cells the ability to draw healthy cells towards them so they can produce the red blood cells they need for nutrition and oxygen. The reason all these mistakes can happen is because the cells are dividing so quickly that they do not have time to mature, allowing mistakes to easily occur. All this together makes a cell cancerous.
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The Difference Between Healthy and Cancerous Cells

  • Healthy cells have DNA that functions normally
  • Cancer cells have an abnormal amount of chromosomes
  • Healthy cells divide in an orderly fashion
  • Cancer cells divide uncontrollably
  • Healthy cells follow chemical signals
  • Cancer cells ignore chemical signals
  • Healthy cells need to be attached to their surroundings
  • Cancer cells can become detached and roam throughout the body
  • Healthy cells go through apoptosis when it is time for them to die. They do this by detaching themselves from their surroundings
  • Cancer cells do not go through apoptosis, nor do they die at all, unless killed.
  • Healthy cells have a normal shape, and all of them are a similar size
  • Cancer cells have an abnormal shape, and can be any size.
  • Healthy cells, or at least normal cells, are killed by the immune system when they become unhealthy, or are replicated wrong.
  • Cancer cells hide from the immune system.


Nutritional Choices and Cancer

There are many different foods that help prevent cancer. Here is a list of a few foods, and why they help:

Organic food: Organic foods are better than those that are not because they are not grown with the same chemicals and pesticides that are known to link with cancer.

Garlic: Garlic has sulfur compounds that stop cancer causing substances to form, repair DNA, kill cancer cells, and battle the H. pylori bacteria that causes stomach cancer. Other foods with these battle skills are onions, leeks, and chives.

Broccoli: Broccoli contains a phytochemical called glucosinolate. Phytochemicals are biologically active compounds found in plants. All the different types have different functions, but glucosinolate activates enzymes called sulforaphane that detoxify harmful substances and also fight H. pylori. This typically prevents cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Other foods with this phytochemical are cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, but broccoli has been said to be the most powerful.

Strawberries: Strawberries are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in vitamin C and E and they activate enzymes that destroy cancer causing substances and slow tumor growth. Strawberries also contain flavonoids, a phytochemical that suppresses enzymes that damage DNA and prevents inflammation. Flavonoids are mostly known to prevent lung and breast cancer. Other foods high in antioxidants and flavonoids are blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Carrots: Carrots contain a variety of different cancer preventers. They have certain antioxidants, beta carotene and others, that protect against toxin damage, slow the growth of cancer cells, and fight cervical cancer. Carrots also contain phytochemicals and vitamins that fight against cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Carrots also have a natural pesticide called falcarinol that prevent tumors from developing. When carrots are cooked more of these various helpers are received.

Spinach: Spinach is high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants remove unstable molecules from the body, and prevent cancer of the mouth, esophagus and stomach. They also may prevent ovarian, endometrial, lung and colorectal cancers too, but the evidence behind that isn't as solid. Besides antioxidants, spinach also has a lot of folate and fiber, which helps produce new cells and protect new cells. Other food like kale, collard greens, chard, and romaine lettuce have the same effect.

Whole Grain: Whole grains are healthy in general, but when it comes to preventing cancer it does have some perks. There is a lot of different things in whole grains that are being looked at for their cancer fighting attributes such as fiber, flavonoids, and saponins. Foods that whole grain is present in is brown rice, whole-wheat bread, corn, and more.

High Fiber Foods: Fiber helps prevent bowel cancer because it increases bowel movement, causing various harmful chemicals to have less time and contact in the body. It also helps certain bacteria that make helpful chemicals.

So I have listed many foods that help fight against cancer, but there is also a handful of foods that can increase your risk of cancer.

Salt: Salt harms the stomach lining, which causes inflammation. Inflammation is known to increase your risk of cancer. Salt also interferes with H. pylori, which causes ulcer and stomach cancer.

Red/Processed Meat: Red and processed meat contains heme, which is a pigment that irritate cells in the bowel and help the production of harmful bacteria. These meats also have nitrates and nitrites that turn into cancer causing substances once in the body.

Processed Food: Processed food can cause free radical damage, which also comes from chemicals and toxins, and it is a leading cause of cancer

How Antioxidants and Phytochemicals Work

So far I have listed all these foods with antioxidants and phytochemicals. But how exactly do they fight cancer? I can list the types of cancers they fight, but is more important to know how they actually do that.

Antioxidants are the defense against free radicals. Free radicals are groups of atoms that have an odd number of electrons, and they are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. This process of creation is usually caused by chemicals and toxins in the body, as well as processed foods. When free radicals are formed they cause a chain reaction. This damages your DNA and can cause cells to function poorly, and sometimes even die. The DNA damage is what can cause cancer. Antioxidants destroy this damage before it can cause a chain reaction.

Phytochemicals are non-nutritious plant chemicals that contain disease prevention properties. Phytochemicals fight cancer in various different ways. First of all, a handful of phytochemicals can act as antioxidants, which fight cancer as listed above. They can also stimulate enzymes. For example, to prevent breast cancer they can stimulate the enzymes that make estrogen less effective. In addition, phytochemicals can interfere with DNA replication, which is what cause cancer in the first place.

The Average American Diet- in Comparison

It is general knowledge that there is an obesity issue with Americans today. As our country slowly transitioned from farm-grown food to processed meals, that problem grew in size greatly. 2000 calories a day is the average amount needed for an adult, and most Americans intake more than 2,700. The average American consumes an excess amount of sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat (mainly from meat). Both sodium and meat were on the list of foods that can cause cancer, and sodium also has a big part in causing cardiovascular diseases, better known as heart disease. While added sugars weren't on that list, one type, aspartame, has caused tumor growth in the past. In general, eating unhealthy will not help on your road to preventing cancer. Keep eating fruits and vegetables. Produce did not even make it to the top 25 foods Americans eat, and that category has the most cancer fighting foods. With a substantial amount of effort, you can break from the statistic and start making healthy lifestyle changes.
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Using What I Learned...

Plan of Action

To put everything I've learned to use, I decide to use SMART goal setting to create and use a cancer prevention diet.

S- Specific: My goal is to learn what food and meals I can eat in order to prevent cancer. In the end I do not want to necessarily eat all cancer fighting foods all the time, but be overall aware of what I am eating and switch certain foods out for better options.

M- Measurable: I will measure this experience by making a set plan for my diet, and taking pictures as proof of what I am eating.

A- Assigned: This goal is assigned to me personal, but my family is slightly involved since I will be planning dinner each night.

R- Realistic: I believe this goal is realistic. I have done a lot of research on this topic, and there is such a variety of different foods to choose from that it shouldn't be too hard to make a meal plan.

T- Time- Based: My time frame for this is 5 days


My Dieting Experience

Overall this cancer prevention diet was a really interesting experience. I decided to start it because I began this project by doing research about cancer, and it really opened my eyes to how intense and horrible it can be. Doing anything to prevent it seemed wise in my eyes. In the end I learned that I can be just as satisfied post-eating when I eat healthy foods compared to processed and junk food. Running hand in hand with that, most fruits and vegetables have cancer fighting properties. Produce can be easily incorporated into meals, and just that small step can make all the difference. I am excited to use these meals in the future. I making a great first step to a healthy lifestyle.