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Cancer and Dietary Requirements
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Cancer and Dietary Requirements

Before understanding benefits of cancer-fighting super foods, one should be familiar with the basics of "right nutrition intake". Avocadoes, spinach, kale, tomatoes and quinoa are some foods that most people fondly include in their daily diet as "good food".

So which type of food can be defined as healthy food? Is the same set of nutritional components suited or beneficial for everyone? Or is there any difference that we should know? Most clinicians find it hard to provide a definitive answer because healthy food differs from each individual's dietary requirements. Further, the choice of healthy food essentially depends on one's current weight, physical activity levels, fitness goals or the presence of comorbid conditions and disorders such as kidney or liver diseases. Similarly, the concept of "right food intake to fight cancer" can be applied here.

The most significant impact of diet on the risk of cancer is mediated through body weight. Being overweight, obese and having a sedentary lifestyle are major contributors to cancer risk (visceral obesity). Obese individuals face a higher mortality risk from all cancers. Besides body weight, alcohol consumption is also a well-established dietary risk factor for cancer. Consumption of alcohol increases the risk of numerous cancers, such as cancer of the liver, oesophagus, pharynx, oral cavity, larynx, breast and rectum. The association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer is notable because a small but significant risk has been found even with one drink per day.

An inverse association can be seen between monounsaturated fat and breast cancer. Relatively low rates of breast cancer have been observed in southern European countries, where high intakes of olive oil as the primary source of fat are normal. Animal fat increases the risk of prostate cancer. Rates of other common cancers in affluent countries, including those of the endometrium and ovary, also correlate with fat intake. Nowadays, consuming fruits and vegetables is considered less significant in preventing cancer than previously assumed and has become uncommon in cancer prevention. On the other hand, more consumption of tomato-based products has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers.

Soybeans contain isoflavones and phytoestrogens that compete with estrogen for the estrogen receptor. In Asian countries, where there is high consumption of soy foods, low rates of breast cancer rates have been recorded. Also, high intake and high plasma levels of vitamin D have been associated with a decreased risk of several cancers, including cancer of the breast, prostate, pancreas, and lymphoma.

Strong evidence suggests that an individual's genetic makeup has a significant bearing on the efficacy of dietary recommendations. Driven by new technologies and paradigms, nutrition scientists have embraced nutritional genomics or nutrigenomics, which will be the driving force of nutritional research in the future. Many dietary factors may not act in isolation and may interact with other lifestyle, dietary, or genetic factors.

Dr. Sunny Garg, Head of Department and Senior Consultant

Medical Oncology

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