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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Karen Collins, M.S., R.D.,C.D.N. | American Institute for Cancer Research

Cancer at the Millenium: What's Next?

by Karen Collins, M.S., R.D.,C.D.N.
American Institute for Cancer Research


Karen Collins, RD

The 21st century is sure to bring a host of advances in cancer treatment. Just as remarkable, however, is the potential for preventing cancer before it even starts.

The past century has seen incredible changes in our understanding of cancer. Once viewed as a disease brought on by outside influences over which we have no control, researchers now say that lifestyle is the most significant source of cancer risk. According to a landmark report on diet and cancer risk from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), "sixty to seventy percent of today's cancers can be prevented with changes in eating and exercise habits, along with weight control and tobacco avoidance."


 



When the influence of diet on cancer risk was first considered, many people believed that food additives and preservatives were the major culprits. Researchers say that these ingredients actually play an extremely minor role in cancer risk. "The easiest, most scientifically substantiated advice is to cut down on animal products and eat more fruits, leafy greens, and red and yellow vegetables," says John Bertram, Ph.D., of the University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center.

Melanie Polk, a registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition Education at AICR agrees. "For years mothers have told us to eat our vegetables, but we never realized to what extent our health could benefit from that advice. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with natural phytochemicals and antioxidants that can block several steps in the process of cancer development."

What will the new millenium bring? Polk asserts that many more phytochemicals are sure to be discovered, and that research will give us a better understanding of how they all work and interact with each other. Regina Santella, Ph.D., professor at Columbia University in New York City, predicts that future research will focus more on the overall diet's effect on cancer risk. "We seem to be past the stage of hoping that super high doses of any one substance can be a magic bullet against cancer or other health problems," she said.

Polk foresees more precise nutrition recommendations as research progresses. "Consumers want to know how much garlic or tea they need to reap the health benefits. Unfortunately, we don't yet have the data to back up such specifics. The best we can do for now is to say, ‘Eat generous servings of a large variety of fruits and vegetables as part of a mostly plant-based diet.'"

Actually, that simple statement represents a huge gain in our understanding a very complex disease. Some researchers believe that one day we will be able to individualize dietary recommendations based on people's inherited susceptibilities and lifestyles. This advancement, they note, will be quite some time in coming.

One prediction for the future comes with cautionary warnings. Vay Liang W. Go, M.D., of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition says that genetically altered vegetables containing three times the normal amount of phytochemicals are already being grown. In addition, he says consumers are loading up on phytochemical supplements. The idea that "natural" substances cannot possibly pose any danger is incorrect. According to Go, "These are powerful substances and they act differently under different circumstances, at different sites and at different concentrations. For now, a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the best answer for people concerned about cancer risk."


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, holds a BS degree in nutrition from Purdue University and an MS degree in nutrition from Cornell University, where she also was an instructor. She has been involved with the American Institute for Cancer Research for more than 15 years as a writer, nutrition education consultant and public speaker. Ms. Collins has authored brochures, newsletter articles and cookbooks. For the past eight years, she has written two weekly newspaper columns syndicated to more than 700 newspapers nationwide and carried weekly on VegSource. In addition, Ms. Collins conducts a private practice in nutrition counseling, working with individuals and groups to develop realistic strategies for achieving health goals.

# # #

The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of consumer education programs that have helped millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided nearly $50 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Internet Web address is http://www.aicr.org

 

 

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