12 Nutrients that Target & Destroy Cancer Stem Cells
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of TTAC’s Heroes Against Cancer member newsletter.
Lack of adequate nutrition can lead to cancer growth – on the other hand, the right nutrients can inhibit cancerous cells from multiplying.
Scientists have known for decades that cancer cells have the ability to repair themselves, multiply, differentiate, and escape normal cellular processes such as apoptosis or “cell suicide.” Only recently researchers have learned that cancer cells originate from stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells in our body that can, given the right “signal,” be transformed into any “specialized” cell.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that, when given the right signal, can become any type of specialized cell
Stem cells found in adults are known as adult stem cells, which normally act as a repair system for the body, constantly replenishing our body’s tissues.
Researchers are also beginning to understand that our diet is perhaps the greatest tool in preventing and treating cancer. Specifically, regular consumption of freshly available, non-irradiated fruits and vegetables is associated with lowered risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that,
when given the right signal, can become
any type of specialized cell
Cancer Cells Originate from Stem Cells
What is known as a pro-survival technique enables cancer cells to develop into the invasive and relentless disease that can wreak havoc on any tissue in our bodies. Unlike typical stem cells, cancer stem cells are self-sufficient, resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs and treatments, have the ability to self-renew, increase inflammation, and are not influenced by contact with other stem cells or anti-growth signals.
Cancer stem cells are also sustained by angiogenesis (the physiological process by which new blood vessels are formed, which cancer tumors use to feed themselves nutrients and grow), flawed cellular energy mechanisms, and their ability to evade normal cellular functions such as apoptosis or cell suicide.
Phytochemicals that Fight Cancer
Nutrient-rich plant foods typically contain phytochemicals, which have anti-cancer properties. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants. Some are responsible for color such as the deep purple of blueberries, while others are responsible for smell. For example, the pungent fragrance of freshly squeezed garlic.
Phytochemicals can have specific actions on our body when we consume the plants containing them. It is estimated that there may be as many as 4,000 different phytochemicals in the plant world. Some of these phytochemicals not only target and kill cancer stem cells, but they also reverse the mechanical flaws in our body which cancer cells thrive on.
12 Nutrients to Consume Daily
Consume the following 12 nutrients daily to equip your body with the cancer-fighting tools it requires to prevent and treat cancerous growth.
#1 – Ursolic Acid
Holy basil is a good source of ursolic
acid, along with other common herbs
such as lavender, peppermint, oregano,
A dietary compound found in herbal medicines such as holy basil, as well as in the natural waxy coating of fruits like apples, ursolic acid has extraordinary anti-cancer potential. Ursolic acid has been shown to treat cancers of the skin, colon, breast, lung, cervix, prostate, esophagus, and pancreas.
Specifically, ursolic acid reduced tumor size and distant organ metastasis of colorectal cancer cells, likely by blocking the expression of proteins needed for their survival, proliferation, and metastasis
Researchers are aware of ursolic acid’s ability to reduce inflammation-promoting enzymes despite not having a full understanding of all biological functions which ursolic acid affects. Reducing the levels of these enzymes is critical to blocking abnormal cell cycles and preventing the expression of genes which turn off cellular apoptosis. In other words, ursolic acid increases cancer cell apoptosis and prevents DNA replication, a typical characteristic of cancerous growth that would otherwise lead to metastasis.
Increasing the ursolic acid content of your daily nutrient intake can inhibit tumors from forming in your body. Many health practitioners supplement with a dose of 150-300 mg ursolic acid 3 times daily for optimal benefits. This is much more than you could get from using apple peels and holy basil which have between 5-10 mg of ursolic acid per serving. Waxy apple peels and holy basil do have other phytonutrients that are beneficial for the body’s immune system, however, and shouldn’t be discarded.
#2 – Piperine
Piperine is found in black pepper and is responsible for its pungent flavor
Every year colorectal cancer kills more than 639,000 individuals worldwide. One of the major causes likely to blame for such a high statistic is a bacterium known as H. pylori, which invades the gastrointestinal lining of more than half of the world’s population and is carcinogenic. Known as the “King of Spices,” piperine – a compound found in black pepper – helps reduce the incidence of cancers relating to the stomach and breast.Piperine has traditionally been used to treat symptoms of cold and fever. Most recently it has gained attention for its cancer fighting properties.
Direct research suggests that piperine has anti-inflammatory effects on H. pylori-induced gastritis and may potentially be useful in prevention of H. pylori-associated gastric carcinogenesis. Piperine appears to prevent H. pylori growth by preventing it from adhering to the gastrointestinal surface.
Piperine has also been shown to target cancer stem cells of breast tumors in testing. As a result of piperine’s actions, the H. pylori bacterium cannot release toxins, cause stress, raise inflammation levels, and promote cancer growth. The antimutagenic factors which piperine induces may be due to its ability to prevent proteins from binding which would normally stimulate cancer formation. Add piperine to your daily diet by including freshly ground high quality black pepper in marinades, salad dressings, sauces, dips, and soups.
#3 – Lycopene
Lycopene is found in fruits and vegetables with red flesh such as blood oranges and pink watermelon
Lycopene is a bioactive compound that destroys cancer cell activity. Foods rich in lycopene include red-fleshed colored fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, watermelons, pink grapefruit, and even so-called “blood” oranges. In fact, red-fleshed sweet orange juice that contains high levels of beta-carotene and lycopene has been shown to have potential chemopreventive effects on leukemia cells in laboratory experiments.
Consuming a lycopene-rich diet is as easy as snacking on watermelon on hot summer days, or adding a bowl of grapefruit to your yogurt in the winter. Add pulp back into your beverage when juicing citrus foods containing lycopene. Increase the bioavailability of lycopene in foods by simmering tomato skins before consumption and enjoy homemade pasta sauce and salsa.
Lycopene’s anti-cancer properties stem from its ability to increase cytotoxicity and apoptosis in cancer cells. This nutrient disrupts cancer stem cells’ communication signals which help a cancer cell to flourish – and instead increases its risk of dying. Cancers which lycopene may be effective at preventing include cervix, colon, lung, and prostate cancer.
If you are looking to avoid carbohydrates and stay on a ketogenic diet, you may want to consider supplementing with 30-50 mg of lycopene, 1-2 times daily. This is about the same amount you would get from eating 2 servings of organic tomato sauce.
#4 – Isothiocyanates
Three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain 10-100 times higher levels of sulforaphane than a mature head of broccoli
Isothiocyanates are derived from naturally occurring sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, wasabi, horseradish, mustard, radish, and watercress contain many types of glucosinolates, each of which forms a different isothiocyanate when hydrolyzed in our body.
Isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane may help to prevent cancer by eliminating potential carcinogens and by enhancing production of so-called “tumor suppressor proteins.” In other words, consuming isothiocyanates through cruciferous vegetable consumption may decrease cancer risk – although boiling and microwaving cruciferous vegetables is known to reduce the bioavailability of isothiocyanates. Depending on the particular vegetable, either consume raw (eg. broccoli sprouts and watercress) or lightly steam (eg. Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower) to retain the most nutrients.
Isothiocyanates promote detoxification, enhance immunity, activate cancer inhibiting agents, and prevent against tumor growth related to the breast, stomach, spleen, prostate, and colon. Isothiocyanates inhibit cancer in many ways. They:
Prevent toxins from accumulating
Stimulate antioxidant potential
Increase healthy gut microflora and remove carcinogenic bacteria linked to stomach cancer
Promote phase 2 enzymes which stimulate antioxidant powerhouses such as glutathione
Increase Nrf2 signaling pathways known to block tumor formation
You too can benefit from the many health benefits of isothiocyanates by adding them to your diet. Although cruciferous vegetables are excellent sources of these powerful compounds, it turns out their sprouts are far more powerful cancer fighting foods. For instance, did you know that cruciferous sprouts can contain up to 100 times more of the glucosinolate compounds needed for the body to produce isothiocyanates than an entire head of broccoli can provide?!
If choosing to supplement with sulforophane, many health practitioners advise taking 300-600 mg, 1-2 times daily. This is especially useful for complementing treatment against hormone-sensitive cancers, as isothiocyanates are very good estrogen detoxifiers.
#5 – Curcumin
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family that has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine
Turmeric is a herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family. The rhizomes of this plant are boiled, dried, and ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder that is used as a spice in Indian cuisine, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient of this turmeric powder is curcumin.
Curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Curcumin prevents chronic inflammation and can also decrease risk of cancer development. Curcumin regulates various factors and substances involved with cancer stem cells and manipulates multiple signaling pathways that are necessary for cancer formation.
Curcumin has shown to target cancer cells by turning off factors which normally would suppress apoptosis, preventing angiogenesis which supplies nutrients and blood flow to cancer cells, and inhibiting tumor invasion and metastasis.
The following types of cancers have been shown to be suppressed by curcumin:
Many health practitioners recommend taking 500-1000 mg doses, 3-4 times daily with food. Curcumin should also be mixed with piperine from black pepper and taken with a fat-based meal for optimal absorption.
#6 – EGCG
EGCG and other green tea antioxidants have been found to stop cancer cells from growing, kill cancer cells, and prevent the formation and growth of new blood vessels in tumors
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, also referred to as EGCG, is a polyphenol found in green tea. EGCG is linked to numerous health benefits including its ability to treat cancer.
Did you know that sipping on green tea regularly can reduce your risk of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer? You could also make a green tea base instead of water to add to your smoothies.
EGCG prevents cancer cells from multiplying, causing inflammation, and invading new tissue – and it also interrupts cancer stem cells communication pathways. Researchers have found that EGCG inhibits critical proteins required for cancer cell survival from binding and shuts off mechanisms which induce cancerous cell growth.
Matcha green tea is the most potent form of EGCG. One glass of Matcha is equivalent to 10 glasses of a commercial green tea in terms of its nutritional value and antioxidant content. One could also supplement with 400-800 mg of EGCG, 1-2 times daily. Always use this earlier in the day as it can be stimulating.
One caveat is that green tea does reduce folate absorption. If using green tea daily, it is advisable to consume extra raw green vegetables (that are rich in folate) in salads or juices or to supplement with an extra 500 mg of methylfolate or calcium folinate.
#7 – Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D3 deficiency is one of the most common factors associated with the development of cancer
Did you know that approximately 10,000 cancer cells are produced daily in your body and have the ability to invade, multiply, and spread to other areas? Vitamin D3 deficiency is one of the most common factors associated with the pathogenesis development) of cancer. Unfortunately, our lack of time spent outdoors in natural sunlight and the increase in use of synthetic drugs has lowered our body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the sun and vitamin D sources from food. Needless to say, proper intake of vitamin D3 daily is required for the prevention of cancer.
Vitamin D3 has been shown in doses of 20,000 IU to act as an effective therapy in delaying the onset of cancer and alleviating systemic inflammation. Perhaps most vital for D3 daily intake is the production of GcMAF, a protein which inhibits cancer cells and boosts the immune system’s natural response to invasive agents such as cancer. GcMAF can eradicate tumors completely but requires adequate vitamin D3 levels for its activity.
Ideal levels for vitamin D3 (25-hydoxy vitamin D) are between 60-100 ng/ml with the ideal range between 80-100 ng/ml for individuals looking to prevent or slow cancer growth. As a general rule, take 1,000 IUs per 25 pounds (11.3 kg) of body weight to slowly raise your vitamin D levels into range or take 2,000 IUs per 25 pounds of body weight to quickly raise your vitamin D levels.
Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is important to take the supplement with a fat-based meal for optimal absorption.
#8 – Resveratrol
While grape skins are one of the highest sources of resveratrol, it’s nearly impossible to get enough of this nutrient through diet alone
Resveratrol is a natural phenol produced naturally by several plants in response to injury or when under attack by bacteria or fungi. Food sources of resveratrol include the skins of grapes (as well as wine made from grape skins), blueberries, raspberries, and mulberries.
This phenolic compound has a profound ability to prevent and heal metabolic conditions such as cancer. It is designed to protect our cells from damage and assist in extending their lifespan and improving normal cell’s processes which cause repair. The cancer-protective properties of resveratrol have been shown to prevent and heal cancers related to the prostate, liver, colon, pancreas, skin, and various other organs.
Adding a resveratrol supplement to your daily diet may be needed as getting enough of this cancer fighting nutrient solely from your diet is not possible given its low concentrations in foods and beverages. Patients combating cancer can take more than 200 mg of resveratrol daily. Non-cancer patients can take 20-100 mg of resveratrol every day to reap optimal anti-cancer benefits
#9 – 6-Gingerol
The unique fragrance and flavor of ginger come from its natural oils – the most important of which is gingerol – which has been studied for its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Ginger is an excellent source of the phytonutrient 6-gingerol, which reduces nitric oxide production associated with inflammation and other cellular disturbances. 6-Gingerol protects against free radical damage and possesses powerful neuroprotective capabilities. Studies show that 6-gingerol stimulates antioxidant defenses and pharmacological pathways for healing.
To get the benefits of 6-gingerol, try sipping on ginger in your tea, add it to meat marinades, shave on vegetable dishes and include in your recipes for coleslaw and salad dressings to improve the chemoprotective properties of your meals. It is also advisable to consume fermented ginger, which is commonly used in Asian dishes such as sushi and in the Korean dish kimchi.
#10 – Silymarin
Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and is commonly used as a natural treatment for liver problems
Also known as milk thistle, Silymarin is a flavonoid which protects against skin and colon cancer. This healing nutrient acts as a strong detoxifying substance able to promote the function of the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. Silymarin has shown therapeutic potential in preventing and treating cancers of the skin, prostate, cervix, and breast.
The ability of Silymarin to promote oxygenation to blood cells and increase enzymatic activity of antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD) are believed to contribute to its chemotherapeutic effects. Silymarin inhibits carcinogens from accumulating in organs of the body, which assists in detoxification processes and decreases the risk of cancerous cell growth.
Lower your risk of developing cancer by supplementing your diet with 200-600 mg of milk thistle daily to prevent against toxic waste build up and inflammation.
#11 – Quercetin
Primary dietary sources of the antioxidant quercetin include citrus fruits, apples, onions, parsley, sage, tea, and red wine
Quercetin is a dietary antioxidant found in fruits, vegetables, teas, and wine. Quercetin has been shown to specifically interfere with cancer stem cells by blocking communication to processes which stimulate free radical production. As a result, hazardous and cancer-stimulating free radicals such as reactive oxygen species are drastically reduced.
Quercetin exhibits anti-cancer properties which improve the production of other antioxidant levels such as glutathione and SOD, thereby further preventing free radical damage and cancer growth. High doses of quercetin may be used to impair the expression of cancer stem cell-activating genes linked to leukemia. Quercetin can relieve inflammation and acts as an antihistamine due to its impact on lowering immune cell responses.
Consuming organic apples (including the skin), red onions, green tea, raspberries, and dark colored tomatoes are great ways to increase quercetin in your diet and lower your risk of cancer. If choosing to supplement with quercetin, it is recommended to take 400-500 mg, 2-3 times per day.
#12 – Anthocyanins
The name anthocyanin is derived from “cyan” in Greek which means dark blue. The deep blue and purple colors of anthocyanins are created at the cellular level and provide sun protection for plants and us when we consume them
Over 600 types of anthocyanins are found naturally in plants such as berries (especially bilberries), grapes, red cabbage, red onions, eggplant, tea, and specific varieties of oranges. Anthocyanins increase the function of genes which act to inhibit tumor growth pathways in cancer stem cells. Anthocyanins are also equipped to trigger apoptosis by manipulating cell signaling between cancer stem cells and tumors.
Anthocyanins enable the body to naturally heal – making them potentially useful in treating colorectal cancer, reducing breast cancer tumors, and limiting leukemia cells from spreading. These dietary components have the ability to control cancer stem cells which otherwise are uncontrollable. Anthocyanins enhance the productivity of genes which suppress tumors, induce apoptosis in colon cancer cells, and create dysfunction in leukemia cells.
Consuming nutrient-dense, anthocyanin-rich foods can help to protect your body from developing cancer and fight already present tumors. Having a handful of organic blueberries or blackberries each day is a fantastic way to get more of these nutrients into your system.
One of the best ways to get anthocyanins is to make fermented sauerkraut with red cabbage and red onions. The final product is rich in isothiocyanates, anthocyanins, and other sulfur compounds that boost glutathione and cancer stem cell-killing compounds.
Committing to an Anti-Cancer Diet
The solution to killing cancer stem cells is found in our diets. This is a resolution which must be committed to for the long-term. Plant-based diets rich in nutrients which fight chronic inflammation, slow cellular aging, stimula