Kim is an RN and author of the book "360 Health: Your Guide to Cancer Prevention, Healing Foods, & Total Body Wellness."
"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 does this mean, and why should we all care about it?
What Is Angiogenesis?
By definition, it is the development of new blood vessels. While this sounds like a relatively innocuous occurrence, it becomes problematic when the blood supply is for a cancerous tumor. 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. Those conditions include a 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 or preventing them from developing.
Ways to Inhibit 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 normal cellular functioning. Some inhibitors work on the blood vessels that feed tumors. Others affect different ways that tumors grow, while still others help to normalize the tumor’s vasculature, to make chemotherapy drugs more effective. All of the aforementioned medications are used to treat pre-existing cancers.
The problem with many of these 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 inhibitors, coupled with their potential for negative reactions, researchers are turning towards studying foods that 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."
Li was a principal researcher in a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Oncology, showing the potency and value of an anti-angiogenic diet to prevent cancer.
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 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.
What's the connection between antioxidant and anti-angiogenic?
When you see that a food is rich in antioxidants, put it on your diet list. Antioxidants help inhibit angiogenesis, so enjoy your berries, dark chocolate, and nuts!
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
— Hippocrates, circa 430 B.C.
Grape seed oil
Tuna (fresh or non-albacore)
In general, fruits are packed with vitamins, especially Vitamin C, which is essential for cell repair and health. They are also loaded with fiber, which helps with detoxification. Red grapes contain resveratrol, which has been shown to reduce angiogenesis by up to 60%. All fruits are filled with antioxidants. Some fruits contain lycopene, a potent anti-angiogenic and the natural pigment in watermelon, tomatoes, and papaya. Choose from these fruits for your daily cancer-fighting diet:
- Red grapes
- Blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries
- Citrus fruit
Many dark, leafy greens are loaded with folate and phytonutrients, as well as the anti-angiogenic flavonoid quercitin. The most abundant vegetable in cancer-fighting quercetin is red onion. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which an efficient scavenger of free radicals. Maitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan, which increases the production of immune-boosting cells like neutrophils and macrophages. Like fruit, vegetables are abundant in antioxidants.
- Bok choy
- Maitake mushrooms
- Red onion
Spices and Herbs
Spices have anti-inflammatory properties, and it's known that inflammation plays a role in the development of major diseases like cancer. Garlic also contains sulfur, an important mineral for detoxification.
Green tea contains a catechin called EGCG, which has been shown to be toxic to cancer cells. Red wine, like grapes, contains resveratrol. Polyphenols, also found in grape skins, protect against free radical damage. Limit consumption of red wine to one to three glasses per week since overuse of alcohol is a cancer contributor.
- Green tea
- Red wine
Olive oil contains oleocanthal, which has been shown to eradicate cancer cells in studies. Grape seed oil extract can also inhibit tumor growth. Both also contain important fat-soluble vitamins to boost overall health and immunity.
- Olive oil
- Grape seed oil
Tuna is rich in omega-3s and in selenium. If you eat tuna, avoid albacore and choose a canned tuna that is "light" and packed in water. This reduces exposure to mercury. Sea cucumbers are a delicacy, especially in Chinese cuisine. They've been studied and shown to be cytotoxic to cancer cells.
- Sea cucumbers
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.
- Dark chocolate
Foods That May Help Prevent Cancer
There are a host of other anti-cancer superfoods. Research on these 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 including carrots and squash (for beta-carotene)
- Fermented foods (like organic yogurt or sauerkraut)
- Oily fish (like salmon)
- Grass-fed beef and organ meats
- Eggs (from pastured hens)
- Purified water (the more the better)
- Coconut & avocado oils
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 lifetime exposure to toxins all play a role in whether or not cancerous tumors may occur. Arming yourself with a diet rich in the foods listed above 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. When the body loses control of angiogenesis, the result is 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. It can also worsen or cause other conditions like Alzheimer's, ALS, Crohn's disease, hair loss, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and diabetic complications.
Clearly, normalizing angiogenesis—having enough but not too many blood vessels— is key. This can be achieved largely by eating a diet rich in the foods listed above 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 the risk for major illnesses decreases dramatically.
Carmeliet, Peter. "Angiogenesis in Health and Disease," June 2003, Nature Publishing Group.
Maravich, Kimberly. "360 Health: Your Guide to Cancer Prevention, Healing Foods, & Total Body Wellness," August 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Kim Maravich
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on July 31, 2020:
Linda, Although not listed as specifically anti-angiogenic, both celery and cucumbers would be beneficial for anyone attempting to eat a cancer-fighting diet. Both are high in fiber and nutrients. I would suggest purchasing both in their organic forms since each has been known to be heavily sprayed with pesticides if not organic. Also worth mentioning, celery does contain Apigenin which is a flavonoid and a cancer chemopreventive agent. Here is a study that may interest you: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC52076...
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on July 31, 2020:
Kristin, I'm very sorry to hear of your cancer diagnosis. I apologize for not seeing your post until now. Although I don't know the specifics of your health, diagnosis, or lifestyle (and I cannot dispense any medical advice ... please work with your doctor), I am aware that phytoestrogens can be beneficial in warding off certain female cancers. Specifically ORGANIC soy products like tofu or edamame and flaxseed may be helpful. You'll want to purchase organic soy since non-organic is largely GMO. Here is one study that may be of interest to you: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25422183/#:~:text=...
linda conover on July 31, 2020:
are celery and cucumbers anti angiogenic
Kristin on January 17, 2020:
I have recently had a stage 1 Grade 3 Ovarian tumour removed. I've chosen not to have Chemo to follow up and the only advice the oncologist gave me was to avoid phytoestrogen foods and supplements as that would aggravate and increase the risk for regrowth if any of the cells had escaped...though all testing showed negative for any spread.
There is a huge amount of conflicting information on the net and I'm struggling to find useful dietary information for my situation. Is it more important to include anti-angiogenics than to avoid phytoestrogens? should I cut ALL phytoestrogens or just use them irregularly because the good outweighs the bad? or what. I'm starting to feel really confused about what to do.
My normal is to include a good variety of anti-angigenics and phytoestrogens and usually maintain perfectly good health. Howeer something suddenly went haywire and I can't work out how, why or what to change to avoid it happening in future.
eddie dollar on November 11, 2019:
like dealing stage 4 large b cell lyphomia
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on December 06, 2018:
Thank you for your comments and questions. I'm sorry to hear of your husband's cancer diagnosis. I'm not sure if you left part of the sentence out on what he also has now ... but I'll try to answer the best I can, not fully knowing his diagnoses.
I would refer you to my other article on CalorieBee titled "9 Foods to Avoid on an Anti-Cancer Diet." This may be helpful to you, too.
But to answer your question, grains can absolutely be included. It's recommended to avoid gluten-containing grains and processed foods high in sugars and refined flours, but grains like quinoa, brown and wild rice, millet, and teff are great! Soaking them prior to consuming them is also a great way to reduce phytic acid, unlock the nutrients, and make them easier on digestion.
You also hit the nail on the head when you mentioned including fat into the diet for satiety. Coconut oil and coconut products are great sources of healthy fats as are olives and olive oil, ghee, grass-fed butter ... in addition to the avocados and nuts you already mentioned. Having adequate protein is also key. And fiber, especially through green veggies and beans, is important for creating feelings of fullness. Lastly, I recommend hydrating A LOT! The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces, at the minimum. So, if a person weighs 200 lbs., they would need to drink 100 ounces of water which is about 3 liters of water a day. That helps with satiety and is great for flushing toxins out of the body as well. A must for someone with cancer or looking to prevent disease. I hope these suggestions help. Let me know if I can help any further.
Elzerbet Ting on December 06, 2018:
Before getting prostate cancer, my husband had a terrible diet with lots of sugar and dairy and processed cereal. I have been health food conscious myself for a long time - mostly vegan with some seafood in my diet - and I have tried to encourage him for years to change his diet. Unfortunately he now has too. I have no problem cooking for him, but there are two issues that are coming up - 1. Grains? Are there any grains that can be used in an anti-angiogenic diet. I ask because he feels deprived a lot and when I make stir fries or stews, it would be nice to give him something with some bulk. 2. He is a guy who has always had a weight problem and feels hungry all of the time. Thoughts on foods that might help him feel fuller? He seems to feel the need for fats - and his new diet cuts out the fats that he is used to having - Some avocados and nuts (and he hates nuts) have helped, but are there additional options? Thanks so much. It is a new struggle for us and figuring out the diet is going to be really important. Thanks again - Liz
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on September 03, 2018:
Thank you so much for reaching out! I’m so sorry to hear of your husband’s diagnosis and your chronic pain. My grandmother had multiple myeloma, so reading your comment hit close to home. There is so very much you can do with diet to improve and maintain health as well as to reduce pain. Turmeric is a wonderful supplement for inflammation. You and your husband will be in my prayers today. Please let me know if there is any way I may be of help or if you have questions. All the best!
lillian richardson tunstill on September 03, 2018:
Most interesting, I found you while researching the difference between Stevia and Splenda. Fortunately your article came up as related and I was able to confirm that anti angiogenic foods are so good. We consume many of the items on your list, but I will try and increase them. My husband is starting multiple myloma treatment again after 2 years clear. I have just been diagnosed with diabetis, and take medication for osteo arthritis and atrial fibrillation and still hope to find a painkiller that works to ease constant pain which is compatible with warfarin. I have recently started to take turmeric. Other medication has increased my weight by 10 pounds in the last three months, I was told by my doctor that "it was my choice, gain weight or live with discomfort" (!!!) Thank you so much for giving me the incentive to take healthy eating a step further, at 74 and 78 we are still hoping to live well into our 90's, there is still so much to do!
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on May 28, 2018:
Yes, you would still get the same nutrients and antioxidants but not the fiber. Juicing can be a good addition to the diet, although you’d want to also eat some of these foods whole as well.
Mary collett on May 28, 2018:
Can you juice some of these veggies n fruits n still get the same benefits?
John Burdyck on May 24, 2018:
Thank you very much.
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on April 08, 2018:
@RTalloni -- Thank you for reading the article and for your kind comments!
RTalloni on April 06, 2018:
So interesting! Thanks for the info in this post. We are missing the mark if we do not focus on nutrition when studying cancer.
Kim Maravich (author) from Pennsylvania on April 06, 2018:
Thank you so much! Yes, cost is a concern for many people and rightly so. Looking for sales is great, and if you can't find sales, it's still important to increase fruits and vegetables even if they're not organic. Their vitamin and mineral content outweighs risk of contaminants. Eating well IS an investment, but it's one that can save lives too. "Sick care" costs can bankrupt families ... something to consider. Thanks again!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 06, 2018:
This is a fascinating article. I know healthy food is very important, and I hate how expensive the better quality meat and vegetables cost. I find it important to take advantage of sales. I eat a salad everyday for lunch, love broccoli, etc. So, your article gives me hope of staying cancer free! Excellent article.