Four picks from the anticancer A-list

There’s no question that diet, lifestyle and environmental factors play a large role in cancer risk. So if we eat well, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and avoid pollutants, what else can be done to lower the risk? According to recent studies, there are certain nutrients that provide anticancer protection when consumed in the diet or via supplements. Here are just a few of most well-researched anticancer compounds:

MAITAKE—Pioneering work by the Japanese researcher Hiroaki Nanba has brought the anticancer properties of maitake mushroom into the spotlight in recent years. Dr Nanba isolated a group of molecules found in maitake, called beta-glucans, and standardized them into a compound called D-fraction, and later MD-fraction. It is this isolated portion of maitake that has demonstrated exciting properties in research, including the ability to 1) protect healthy cells from becoming cancerous; 2) help to prevent the spread of existing cancer to other body parts; 3) slow or stop tumour growth; and 4) lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss, pain and nausea. Maitake’s anticancer properties stem in part from its ability to improve immune system function. For this reason, it is also being considered for possible benefits to AIDS patients.

INDOLE-3-CARBONOL—This component of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale has demonstrated some promising anticancer potential in both animal and human studies. Indole-3-carbonol is an antioxidant and a stimulator of enzymes involved in the body’s detoxifying process. It appears especially helpful in breast and cervical cancers, as it helps reduce tumours and breaks down damaging estrogen. Look for indole-3-carbonol in specialty multivitamin formulas or as a single nutrient. As human studies continue it will likely become more widely available.

SELENIUM—Another powerful antioxidant, selenium activates a key cancer-protective enzyme in the body called glutathione. Many studies have linked low selenium intake with higher rates of cancers. Currently, this trace mineral is the subject of a major clinical trial which will gauge its protective effects against prostate cancer. In one US study, selenium supplementation was associated with a 33% decrease in total cancer incidence and a 52% decrease in prostate cancer incidence in men.

FLAXSEED—Flax is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, both of which have impressive anticancer properties. Like indole-3-carbonol, flax lignans have particular promise in breast cancer because they bind to estrogen receptors and interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen on breast tissue.

Note: Cancer is a serious disease and requires professional care and guidance. If you have questions about your state of health, consult a naturopath or doctor for the right treatment plan for you.

Sources: Encyc of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, Prima:1996; Maitake MD-Fraction: A Literature Review by M Mayell, Maitake Science:2000; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau; Healthnotes Online