By William W. Li, MD President, The Angiogenesis Foundation
Ovarian cancer strikes women of all ages, and it’s a silent killer. Although ovarian cancer is responsible for only 3% of all female cancers, this year alone, 21,880 women will receive the diagnosis and it will cause more than 13,850 deaths. That’s a big number, any way you look at it.
The threat of ovarian cancer is hard to beat because the biggest risk factors are your genetics, your family history, and if you’ve never had children – things you really can’t change. So, what can you do to lower the risk? It turns out that what you eat can make a difference.
Experts believe that one-third of all cancers can be prevented by what you eat. For decades, public health researchers around the world have been studying how certain foods lower the risk of different cancers. What has emerged is good evidence that specific foods are associated with a lower risk for ovarian cancer. This means that the War on Cancer can also be a food fight. And that’s a battle that you can win in your own kitchen.
Here are four foods known to be protective against ovarian cancer.
Endive is a salad vegetable. The kind Dr. Oz and I spoke about is the Belgian endive, which is shaped kind of like a yellow and white tulip. It’s found in the produce section of grocery stores and tastes like a mild cabbage.
Studies of more than 62,000 women in the Netherlands have found those who ate endive had a 75% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer. What’s responsible for this? Endive contains a naturally occurring cancer fighter called kaempferol (also found in spinach, kale and broccoli). Researchers have discovered that when ovarian cancer cells are exposed to kaempferol, they die. This cancer fighter also has another trick. Kaempferol is anti-angiogenic. This means it stops cancers from being able to grow the vital blood vessels that feed them, a process called angiogenesis. So, in essence, it starves cancers by cutting off their blood supply. To learn more about angiogenesis, click here.
Protective Prescription: Research shows you should eat a half-cup of endives, twice per week.
Eating onions has been shown to reduce the risk of many types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. On the show, I said that onions are the underdog of superfoods. Why? Because, although they can be strong on the breath, they are packed with natural cancer fighters, like apigenin, anthocyanin, myricetin and quercetin.
Red onions are about 60% more potent than yellow or white onions, in terms of the amounts of cancer fighters. They also have more flavor. But don’t boil onions; boiling them reduces their cancer-fighting properties by about 30%. The best way to eat them is raw or sautéed with a little oil in a pan.
Protective Prescription: To protect against ovarian cancer, you should eat a half-cup of onions – cooked or raw – every day. That may sound like a lot, but onions are a versatile food. Think about having some in a salad for lunch, and having some sautéed with your meal for dinner. Before you know it, you’ll have eaten your daily dose.
A series of studies from Northern Italy showed that eating fish reduced the risk of ovarian cancer by 30%. What’s in fish? Well, Mother Nature is pretty resourceful; the same omega-3 fatty acids in fish that are good for your heart and protect against stroke also protect against cancer. Omega-3s are anti-angiogenic, so they too starve cancers by cutting off the blood supply to them.
There’s a pretty big list of fish containing omega-3s; however, some of the same fish are also high in mercury, which you want to avoid or only eat rarely. The best fish are salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. But, if those are a bit too “fishy” for you, there are milder-flavored fish, like cod, haddock, flounder and sea bass. One of my favorite fish is a type of sea bass called branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass (which we discussed on the show). Eat a variety of fish, and learn different ways to cook with it. Steaming, broiling and baking are healthy options.
Protective Prescription: Research suggests eating 6-oz servings of fish 2-3 times per week. That’s a piece of fish about the size of your palm. Fish cooks very quickly, so it’s a big time saver as well.
Tomatoes protect against ovarian cancer. A study of 13,000 women in California showed that eating a half-cup of tomatoes five or more times a week reduced the risk of ovarian cancer by more than 60%. What’s in tomato? Lycopene – and it’s anti-angiogenic, too.
Protective Prescription: How you cook tomatoes can influence the amount of lycopene that your body absorbs. Heating tomatoes to 190° F with a little olive oil, and simmering for 20 minutes is the best way to coax out their most useful form of lycopene. Think about it: This is just how you would make tomato sauce. Eating cooked tomatoes is healthier than eating raw tomatoes in a salad.
Cooking to Conquer Cancer
On the show, I explained how all these healthy ingredients can be combined in a super simple way to create a cancer-fighting meal. We steamed a piece of fish (it takes only 5-7 minutes), and cooked a tasty sauce – made of tomatoes, olives, capers, lemon, red onion and garlic, all of which have natural cancer fighters in them. Then we topped it off with a crunchy endive salad. You can make the sauce while the fish is steaming, so this dish is perfect for families who need convenience in the kitchen. And, it is delicious.
For the complete recipe and instructions, click here.
Eat to Defeat Cancer
To learn more about cancer-fighting foods, check out the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation’s Eat to Defeat Cancer campaign, which has lots of information on how eating certain foods reduce the risk of cancer. There are lots of simple and delicious recipes for the practical home cook. For more information, click here.