Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eating to starve disease?

Putting the concepts of eating and starving together may seem paradoxical, but when it comes to food and disease experts are finding a definite connection. You can view the amazing details in this TED Talk video by Dr. William Li, an expert in angiogenesis.  If you prefer to skip the short video, I've attempted to summarize his talk below.

So what is angiogenesis?  Angio comes from the Greek word meaning "pertaining to blood vessels" and genesis comes from Greek word meaning "the act of producing or giving birth to". So angiogenesis is the production of new blood vessels.

In the video, Dr. Li describes angiogenesis as "an important natural process in the body used for healing and reproduction." An example of reproductive angiogenesis is the uterus as it sheds its lining and produces another with each monthly menstrual cycle.  The process of the growth of new blood vessels that occurs after an injury is an example of healing angiogenesis. In both of these instances, angiogenesis is regulated by a complicated balance of factors that either stimulate or slow the growth of new blood vessels. Experts now recognize that when these factors become unbalanced and too much or too little angiogenesis takes place, cancer, age-related blindness, diabetic ulcers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, skin diseases, and many other diseases can occur.

Let's look at cancer, which is what Dr. Li focuses on in his presentation. In order for a tumor to grow beyond a certain size it requires new blood vessels. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that "small activator molecules produced by the cancer cells... signal angiogenesis in the tissue surrounding the tumor" (National Cancer Institute). Scientists also know that without angiogenesis tumor growth halts at about 1-2 mm. Dr. Li explains in the video that after a certain age many of us probably have these 1-2 mm microscopic cancers, but the disease doesn't progress beyond this point.  Experts are learning that in some people the body doesn't respond to the cancer cells' signal to begin angiogenesis. One expert calls this cancer without disease.

The fact that a tumor stops growing without angiogenesis has staggering implications.  Could cancer possibly be thwarted from developing into a larger, more aggressive and life threatening disease? Dr. Li is looking into this possibility and has done numerous experiments on animals with fairly good success, considering the cases were mostly more advanced stages of cancer.  How has he been able to accomplish these results?  By using angiogenesis medicine.

So, what does eating to starve disease have to do with angiogenesis? Well, Dr. Li has found that there are foods that have the ability to regulate angiogenesis. In the case of cancer this means specific foods have anti-angiogenic properties. They have the potential to starve a cancer by interfering with the angiogenic process. This in turn limits a tumors blood supply and ultimately stops its growth! Chemical comounds like dithiolthiones and sulforaphane which are found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli are anti-angiogenic. The slide is from Dr. Li's presentation.  It lists some of these foods that have anti-angiogenic properties.

Source: Dr. Li and the Angiogenesis Foundation

Dr. Li's statement at the end of the presentation was profound for me.  Food can be my chemotherapy, three times a day! What do you think? It might seem a little outside the box to consider food as medicine or chemotherapy. However, considering that both food and chemotherapy are chemical compounds, it's not that big of a stretch. Why is that what comes from nature is sometimes seen as less superior than a drug that man can create from nature? If the end result is finding a cure or preventing cancer, it really doesn't matter from where it's derived. Until that end result happens, I feel empowered by knowing there are foods I can choose to eat that really are having a positive impact on my health.

UPDATE: Check out the Eat to Beat Cancer Initiative - "which has catalyzed a movement to improve health through cancer-fighting foods. Based on the latest medical science, there are practical, healthy, and tasty food choices that can be made by you every day, at every meal, to incorporate cancer-fighting foods into your diet."


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