What are Anti-Angiogenic Foods and Why Do You Need Them in Your Diet?
"Anti-angiogenesis" is the new buzzword in cancer research. Diets rich in so-called anti-angiogenic foods are attractive to those suffering from cancer or wanting to prevent the disease altogether. But what exactly is angiogenesis, why does it need to be avoided, and why should we all care about this?
What is Angiogenesis?
By definition, angiogenesis is the development of new blood vessels. While this sounds like a relatively innocuous occurrence, it becomes problematic in regard to cancer. When someone has cancerous cells, the last thing they want is for those cells to be fed a rich and nourishing blood supply. Microscopic cancer cells can multiply, mutate, and metastasize given the "right" conditions ... and those conditions involve having their own vasculature system. A tumor needs nutrients and oxygen to grow and spread. So, in order to stop the progression of cancer, blood supply to tumors needs to be shut off by eliminating these aberrant vessels.
Ways to Stop Angiogenesis
Current cancer research is aimed at finding various ways to halt angiogenesis. Scientists are exploring natural and synthetic angiogenesis inhibitors.
Some pharmaceutical angiogenesis inhibitors are aimed at binding to signaling molecules on the surface of normal cells, thus blocking the ability of cancer cells to interfere with typical cellular functioning. Some inhibitors work on the blood vessels that feed tumors. Others affect different ways that tumors grow, while still others make the tumor’s vasculature more normal so that chemotherapy drugs can get to the tumor better. All of the aforementioned medications are targeting at treating pre-exisiting cancers.
The problem with many of the pharmaceutical angiogenesis inhibitors is that they come with a host of side effects. Some of these include nosebleeds, headaches, high blood pressure, inflammation of the nose, too much protein in the urine, taste alteration, dry skin, rectal hemorrhage, increased tearing of the eyes, back pain, and redness and peeling of the skin. Bruising, bleeding, or clots that may lead to stroke or heart attack may also occur.
Because of the expense of pharmaceutical angiogenesis inhibitors coupled with their potential for negative reactions, researchers are turning towards studying foods which may provide some of the same benefits but without the side effects. As we will see below, there are a number of foods rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer properties that may not only help stop angiogenesis but may also prevent cancerous tumors from ever developing at all.
In his TED talk, Dr. William Li, founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation, explains that certain foods can turn off the switch to cancer. He says,
"Mother Nature has laced a large number of foods, beverages, and herbs with naturally occurring inhibitors of angiogenesis."
He goes on to say,
"The good news is that we can eat to starve cancer. Lots of foods contain naturally occuring inhibitors of angiogenesis, and many are even better than drugs for blocking angiogenesis."
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.— Hippocrates, circa 430 B.C.
Your mother probably told you to "eat your vegetables." We all know that many vegetables are loaded with vitamins and nutrients important for our health. But the list of anti-angiogenic foods extends well past vegetables. Each category of anti-angiogenic foods listed below comes with its own set of micro-nutrients and healing properties which have been studied and determined to be beneficial in the fight against cancer and abnormal angiogenesis.
- Red grapes
- Other berries (black, blue, raspberry)
- Citrus fruit
Highlights: In general, fruits are packed with vitamins, especially vitamin C which is known for reducing illness. They are also loaded with fiber which helps with detoxification. Red grapes contain resveratrol which has been studied to reduce angiogenesis by up to 60%. All fruits are filled with antioxidants.
- Bok choy
- Maitake mushrooms
Highlights: Many dark leafy greens are loaded with folate and phytonutrients. Tomatoes contain lycopene known to scavenge free radicals. Garlic contains sulfur, an important mineral in detoxification. Maitake mushrooms contain beta glucan which increases production of immune boosting cells like neutrophils and macrophages. Like fruit, vegetables are abundant in antioxidants.
3. Spices and Herbs
Highlights: Spices have anti-inflammatory properties. It's known that inflammation plays a role in the development of major diseases like cancer.
- Green tea
- Red wine
Highlights: Green tea contains a catechin called EGCG which has been shown to be toxic to cancer cells. Red wine, like grapes, contains resveratrol. Polyphenols, found in grape skins, also protect against free radical damage.
- Olive oil
- Grape seed oil
Highlights: Olive oil contains oleocanthal which was shown to eradicate cancer cells in studies. Grape seed oil extract can also inhibit tumor growth. Both have important fat soluble vitamins.
- Sea Cucumbers
Highlights: Tuna is rich in Omega 3s and in selenium. Sea cucumbers are a delicacy especially in Chinese cuisine. They've been studied and shown to be cytotoxic to cancer cells.
- Dark chocolate
Chocolate that has at least 70% cacao is best as it contains higher amounts of antioxidants. The flavonoids in dark chocolate are responsible for the reduction in cancer and other diseases.
Other Anti-Cancer Foods
There are a host of other anti-cancer superfoods. Research of anti-angiogenic foods is still in its infancy, so many of the following may indeed also inhibit tumor growth. At any rate, they are packed with powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and micronutrients which also assist in disease prevention. These categories include:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower)
- Sulfur-rich vegetables (like onions and garlic)
- Orange vegetables (for beta-carotene)
- Fermented foods (like organic yogurt or sauerkraut)
- Other spices/herbs
- Oily fish (like salmon)
- Grass-fed beef and organ meats
- Eggs (from pastured hens)
- Purified water (the more the better)
- Other oils (coconut, avocado)
I Don't Have Cancer; Why Should I Care?
The reality is, most of us carry around microscopic cancer clusters that we're not even aware of. Not everyone, however, will go on to develop cancer. One's diet, lifestyle, genetic make-up, and life-time exposure to toxins all play a role in whether or not cancerous tumors may occur. Arming yourself with a diet rich in anti-angiogenic foods, can go a long way in preventing many diseases, not just cancer.
In fact, in the graph above, we see that angiogenesis is implicated in several diseases and conditions. Abnormal angiogenesis occurs when the body loses its control of angiogenesis, resulting in either excessive or insufficient blood vessel growth.
In addition to cancer, excessive angiogenesis can contribute to rheumatoid arthritis, blindness, AIDS complications, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel diseases, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pulmonary conditions, and even obesity.
On the other hand, insufficient angiogenesis can lead to strokes, infertility, heart disease, ulcers, and skin conditions. Other conditions like Alzheimer's, ALS, Crohn's disease, hair loss, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and diabetic complications are worsened and/or caused by insufficient angiogenesis. These problems result from the absence of angiogenesis normally required for natural healing.
Clearly, normalizing angiogenesis ... having enough but not too many blood vessels ... is key. This can be achieved largely by eating a diet rich in anti-angiogenic foods because they have compounds able to modulate angiogenesis.
Normalizing angiogenesis is key. This can be achieved largely by eating a diet rich in anti-angiogenic foods.
Final Thoughts on Healing Foods
The news that food can help prevent diseases, namely cancer, is certainly exciting. Increasing the amounts of anti-angiogenic and anti-cancer foods in one's diet can pave the way for optimal health and robust immunity.
When possible, it's important to consider buying organic produce. The Environmental Working Group has a list of the "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables most commonly tainted with pesticides. The EWG recommends they be purchased in their organic forms. They also have a "Clean 15" list of produce that is safe to buy in non-organic form.
Likewise, when buying animal products, look for grass-fed beef, pastured organic poultry and eggs, pastured pork, and wild-caught fish to ensure that these products do not contain hormones or antibiotics and do not come from "sick" animals.
Most importantly, stick to whole foods and try to shy away from packaged and boxed foods which likely contain processed foods laden with sugar and damaged oils.
Remember that nature has provided us with powerful medicine. We need just to consume the right foods more often, and risk for major illnesses decreases dramatically.
Dr. William Li's TED Talk "Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?"
Carmeliet, Peter. "Angiogenesis in Health and Disease," June 2003, Nature Publishing Group, https://www.cellworks.co.uk/download/Doc_1_Carmeliet_2003.pdf.
Maravich, Kimberly. "360 Health: Your Guide to Cancer Prevention, Healing Foods, & Total Body Wellness," August 2017.
Mercola, Joseph. "New Natural Way to Starve Cancer and Obesity," 8 June 2010, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/06/08/dramatically-effective-new-natural-way-to-starve-cancer-and-obesity.aspx.
© 2018 Kim Maravich