Everyone hears that a proper diet and exercise regimen can help prevent chronic disease such as cancer. How does that work exactly? A complex topic that can be understood a little bit easier by looking back at basic cell biology. Cells replicate and divide in order to be renewed and function at their best. The body has natural protective mechanisms that ensure this replication process starts and stops appropriately. Cancer develops when cells replicate uncontrollably, and the “stop” button is missed.
Fruits/vegetables play key roles in keeping cells healthy and dividing in a controlled fashion. How? Compare candy and broccoli for a second. They both provide energy (calories) for your cells to use; candy only provides energy, while broccoli provides energy plus vitamins/minerals/phytochemicals to help keep cells repaired and healthy, minimizing the chances that cell renewal will go rogue. This doesn’t mean chocolate causes cancer; it means it simply doesn’t provide nutrients that emphasize cell repair and health. Broccoli also has fiber, which promotes more frequent stools. This bowel movement helps get foodstuff out of the intestines faster to reduce contact time that intestinal cells have with cancer-causing agents. Diets high in fruits/vegetables (esp. non-starchy) are associated with lower risks of colon cancer.
Another diet component to consider is alcohol consumption. While regular foods/drinks have specific places in the GI tract to be absorbed, alcohol is unique in that it can be absorbed at any point in the GI tract once consumed. When alcohol is absorbed, it also denatures parts of the cells and speeds up cell division. This increases the chances of cell division controls being disrupted, which can lead to the uncontrolled cell replication that causes cancer. Thus, this is one reason moderate alcohol consumption is encouraged, among other things.
Proper nutrition does not necessarily prevent cancer, but it can certainly help protect against it. BN dietitians are able to help with nutrition for cancer and can help you set up a diet that will help protect against a cancer diagnosis in the first place.