Anti cancer food

Food with anticancer properties


Allium family

Includes: Garlic, Onion (yellow, green and purple), Shallots, Leeks, Scallions and Chives



Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption of Allium vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of several cancers.   The Allium family are rich in cancer-fighting organosulfur compounds, which are produced when the cell walls of the vegetables are broken down by chopping, crushing, or chewing.

 Summary of scientific findings on the key anti-cancer properties of the Allium vegetables are:

  •  the ability to cause cell death (apoptosis) or halted cell division, preventing the cancer cells from multiplying
  • the phytochemicals are also anti-angiogenic, which means that they can prevent tumors from obtaining a blood supply to fuel their growth 1.
  • they are powerful antiviral, antiseptic and antibiotic agents.
  • they increase the immune cell activity,

The organosulfur compounds are powerful detoxifying agents. They prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, thus blocking the carcinogens from entering and damaging the cells. Of all the allium family, studies have shown that garlic is the most potent anti-cancer food.  Consumption of garlic has been linked to lower risk of stomach and colon cancer.  Diallyl sulfide, a compound found in   garlic oil, has also been shown to render carcinogens in the liver inactive 2.

 How to get the most of the ‘anti-cancer’ properties of garlic3

 To get the most of the ‘anti-cancer’ properties of garlic you have to peel, chop/crush/chew the garlic and let it stand for 15 minutes.  This will activate the chemical reaction resulting in the maximum release of the anti cancer chemical alliicin.  This also makes the chopped or crushed garlic more stable and resistant to the heat of cooking.  It is best eaten raw however if you cook it, it is recommended that you cook it on medium heat for a short period of not more than 15 minutes to prevent destroying the nutrients.  Stir frying preserves most of the anti-cancer chemicals. 

Heating garlic without letting it stand/rest for 15 minutes has been found to deactivate the enzyme that is responsible for the formation of alliicin during cooking3.


  1. Powolny A, Singh S. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vege table-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett 2008;269:305-314.
  2. Dr. Lenore Arab, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the UNC-CH (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) schools of public health and medicine and colleagues—October 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  3. The influence of heating on the anticancer properties of garlic -; Song K1, Milner JA

Green Tea

Emerging animal and clinical studies are suggesting that green tea may play an important role in the prevention of cancer.   Green tea is a rich source of a class of polyphenolic compounds called catechins.  These compounds boast anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.   

Green tea extracts exhibit strong antioxidant protection for human body.  These antioxidant compounds possess powerful anti-mutagenic properties, protecting cellular DNA from oxidative damage.  Since DNA damage can lead to cancer, green tea may play an important role in preventing cancer.

Much of the cancer chemo-preventive properties of green tea are mediated by Epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG for short.  EGCG induces  apoptosis (cell death) and inhibit cancer cell growth by altering the expression of cell cycle regulatory proteins, activating killer caspases, and suppressing oncogenic transcription factors and pluripotency maintain factors1.  Various clinical studies have revealed that treatment by EGCG inhibits tumor incidence and multiplicity in different organ sites such as liver, stomach, skin, lung, mammary gland and colon1.   Researchers discovered a significant increase in the activity of antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes (glutathione peroxidation, glutathione reductase and glutathione S -transferase, catalase and quinine reductase) in the small intestine, liver and lungs.

The amount of EGCG present in green tea varies with different brands of the product, the region it is grown, amount of brewing time, age of the leaves, etc.  From the research carried out by R. Belleview, the tea with the most EGCG are the Japanese teas such as Sencha, Gyokuro and Macha.  Green tea are, generally speaking more effective than  black tea extracts due to the better preservation of catechins.    Green tea  presents a promising cancer treatment, either alone or with other therapies. As a tool for prevention and/or treatment of cancer drink up to 3 cups of freshly brewed green tea a day.   Always   allow for an 8 to10 minutes brewing period. 

Green tea is also well-known to provide substantial defense against an array of diseases, including cardiovascular, insulin resistance, obesity and autoimmune diseases.

1.  Green tea catechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): mechanisms, perspectives and clinical applications.

Biochem Pharmacol 2011 Dec 15;82(12):1807-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2011.07.093. Epub 2011 Jul 30, Singh BN1, Shankar S, Srivasta RK. 

 Cruciferous Vegetables


Includes:  Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (white, green and purple), curly cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, turnips, Bok choy, Arugula, horseradish, radish (white, red, purple), and watercress.

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients, including several carotenoids (beta-carotein, lutein, anthocyanins and zeaxanthin) vitamins C, E, and K; folate; minerals and a good fiber source; some have more than others.  They are also  packed with bioactive compounds that are specifically responsible for the cancer-preventive and inhibitory effects. 

Research on cruciferous vegetables highlights several components that have been linked to lower cancer risk, including glucosinolates, crambene and indole-3-carbinol.  

When the plant cell walls are broken by blending, chopping, or chewing, an enzyme called myrosinase   converts glucosinolates to compounds with potent anti-cancer effects, such as isothiocyanates (ITCs) and indole 3.  A study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s scientists published in 1998 in “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” indicates that indoles and isothiocyanates possess chemo preventive properties.

Other anti-cancer effects include1::

  •  Anti-inflammatory
  •  Anti-angiogenic
  •  Detoxification of carcinogens
  •  Preventing DNA damage
  •  Promoting programmed cell death in cancerous cells

Cruciferous vegetables are especially helpful for preventing hormonal cancers, such as breast cancer, because some ITC, such as indole-3-carbinol (abundant in broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage), can even help the body excrete estrogen and other hormones 2.


  1. Higdon J, Delage B, Williams D, et al. "Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis." Pharmacol Res 2007;55:224-236. National Cancer Institute
  2. Yuan F, Chen DZ, Liu K, et al. Anti-estrogenic activities of indole-3-carbinol in cervical cells: implication for prevention of cervical cancer. Anticancer Res 1999;19:1673-1680.

 Citrus fruits

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 Includes: Orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, tangerines, clementines

Citrus fruits are not only an excellent source of vitamin C, but it is also a food that supplies the body with several anticancer phytochemical compounds.  Some of these compounds act directly while others supply the body with the necessary requirements of many phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.  The bioactive compounds in citrus fruits include vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids, limonoids, folic acid, and dietary fibre.   The number of studies showing anti-cancer properties of citrus fruits are too numerous to list and these benefits are mainly found in the significant quantities of monoterpenes, limonoids and flavanones (phytonutrients) found in citrus fruits.

The beneficial action of these anticancer compounds act on multiple cancer-related biological pathways, such as:

  •  Modulating the body’s detoxification of carcinogenic substance
  •  Anti-inflammatory — preventing the development of cancer
  •  Anti-proliferative and Anti-metastatic properties– thus prevent the spread of cancer
  •  Anti-angiogenesis—prevent the formation of blood vessels to the tumour cells

 Studies have also shown that apoptosis is the major cause for inhibition of proliferation of colon cancer cells by citrus limonoids. The antiproliferative effects of limonoids have been shown in various cancers  including breast cancer (Tian et al., 2001), colon cancer and stomach cancer (Lam et al., 1989) and neuroblastoma cancer (Poulose et al., 2005). 1

Consumption of citrus fruits have been associated with a decrease in the risk of developing cancers of the digestive tract such as esophageal, mouth, larynx, pharynx as well as stomach cancer by 40-50%. 2

Citrus fruits are essential foods for cancer prevention and treatment due to their capacity to act directly on cancerous cells and also its potential for enhancing the anticancer effects of other phytochemical  compounds present in the diet. 

  1. Anticancer Phytochemicals of citrus fruits—A review—Rajendra Gyawali and Kyong Su Kim—Journal of animal research June 2014
  2. Source: Food to fight cancer—Richard Belieau Ph.D. and Denis Gingras, Ph.D.


Tumeric is a spice that is widely used in Indian and South Asian cooking.   It can be used typically in its dried, powdered form, or used fresh like ginger.   The primary active ingredient is curcumin.  Turmeric has been used as medicine for thousands of years in India and China for a range of diseases and conditions.  However, the  growing interest in curcumin has intensified over the past 50 years especially on its nutritive power and the many unique ways in which this herb battles cancer.   In a report carried by the Life Extension Foundation1, it  states that curcumin is a potent multimodal cancer-preventing agent as opposed to the main stream oncology single agent toxic treatments.  It targets ten causative factors involved in cancer development and disrupting any one of these factors gives you a good chance of preventing cancer; disrupting several provides even greater protection, including the prevention of DNA damage


 Dark chocolate

 Cocoa and dark chocolate are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, the chemical compounds that help protect against the harmful products of oxygen reactions (know as “free radicals”) in body tissues   Due to their high concentration of catechins and procyanidins, cocoa and chocolate products may have beneficial health effects against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation which are risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases.   The chocolate recommended is the dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content.


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Includes:  Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, goji berries 

Most berries are an exceptional source of several classes of polyphenols that possess anticancer potential such as ellagic acid, anthocynanidins and proanthocyanidins.  They are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients  that may prevent the onset of cancer by preventing DNA damage .   The phytochemicals in berries helps to boost the activity of antioxidant enzymes like catalase or superoxide dismustase and their ability to lessen the acitivity of pro-inflammatory enzymes like cyclo—oxygenase 2 (COX-2).  These berries are not readily found in Malaysia, you can opt for other fruits too.


Grapes contain bioflavonoids; the powerful antioxidants that work as cancer preventives. They neutralize the free radicals and may protect against various types of cancer.  Grapes are also a rich source of resveratrol (found in grape skin), this compound inhibits the enzymes that can stimulate cancer-cell growth and suppress immune response. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound that blocks enzymes that are necessary for cancer cells - this appears to help slow the growth of tumors. 

Grape seed extract has been extensively studied for its anticancer activities.  The main phytochemicals in grape seed extract such as Proanthocyanidins have been found to induce apoptosis and inhibit metastasis of highly metastatic breast carcinoma cells2 and prostate cancer3.


  1. Life Extension Foundation -
  2. Carcinogenesis—2006 August 27(8): 1683-91
  3. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. - 2006 May;5(5):1265-74


 Mushrooms have long been used in medicine in China, Japan, Korea,   Taiwan and other Asian countries for a very long time but are relatively      unheard of in the Western medicine.   They are used for their health promoting effects  and the treatment of serious diseases and even cancer.  

There has been a growing interest in mushrooms and various studies have looked at their anti-cancer properties.  Summary of the findings are:

 Active compounds: Polysaccharides, especially Lentinan, Beta Glucan. lectin, Thioproline, Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC).  

Shiitake, maitake, enokidake, cremini, Portobello and oyster mushrooms all contain polysaccharides and lentinan, which stimulate the reproduction and activity of immune cells.  

The following are some of the excerpts on anti-cancer properties of mushroom extracted form the Memorial Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center’s website.

Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa)  — demonstrated antitumor effects, enhanced bone marrow colony formation, reduced doxorubicin toxicity, and inhibited tumor metastasis in vitro.  In a study done on mice, oral maitake extract promoted maturation of hematopoietic cells (blood cells that give rise to all the other blood cells) to functionally active myeloid cells and enhanced peripheral blood leukocyte recovery following chemotoxic bone marrow injury. A novel polysaccharide, MZF, was shown to induce dendritic cell maturation and enhanced antitumor response . Maitake also enhanced interferon activity against bladder cancer cells and alleviated inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease. 


Extracts from maitake mushrooms, when combined with vitamin C, were shown to reduce the growth of bladder cancer cells by 90 percent, as well as kill them.

Source: Effect of various natural products on growth of bladder cancer cells: two promising mushroom extracts—Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):63-8

Reishi (or ganoderma) - In vitro and animal studies indicate that it has chemopreventive effects, alleviates chemotherapy-induced nausea , enhances the efficacy of radiotherapy  and increases the sensitivity of ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin. It may also help prevent cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity.  In small clinical studies, Reishi mushroom increased plasma antioxidant capacity, and enhanced  immune responses in advance-stage cancer patients .

Shiitake Mushroom—improvements in quality of life and survival were seen with an oral formulation of superfine dispersed lentinan in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma , gastric , colorectal  and pancreatic cancers. An orally administered Shiitake mycelial extract decreased the incidence of adverse effects associated with chemotherapy in a small study of patients with advanced gastrointestinal cancer.  

Oyster mushroom — In vitro experiments and studies shown that this mushroom has antitumor, immunomodulatory  antifungal , lipid lowering, and hypoglycemic properties.

For further information go to: or oyster-mushroom or reishi-mushroom or shiitake-mushroom

Recommendation:  Make mushroom a part of your anti cancer diet or have them as supplements.  Include locally grown edible mushroom too.


Base on the laboratory study carried out by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, ginger may kill cancer cells through apoptosis (cell suicide).  It is linked to autophagy, which is when cancer cells are "tricked into digesting themselves."

Herbs and spices

Cooking herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and mint are rich in essential oils of the terpene family (chemicals that are responsible for their fragrance).  They promote apoptosis in cancer cells and reduce their spread by blocking the enzymes they need to  invade neighbouring tissues.  Parsley and celery contain apigenin, an anti-inflammatory that promotes apoptosis and blocks angiogenesis.


Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that attacks roaming oxygen molecules, known as free radicals.  They also have vitamin C, an antioxidant which can prevent cellular damage that leads to cancer.  Lycopene’s anticancer activity is maximized by cooking tomatoes in the presence of fats (oils) such as olive oil and other good fats.  An increased intake of lycopene has already been linked to a reduced risk of    developing prostate, breast,  pancreas and colorectal cancer.   Eating tomato-based products is an excellent way to reduce the risk of developing cancers. 


Seaweeds—Several varieties of seaweed commonly eaten contain molecules that slow cancer growth.   Green Seaweeds contain chlorophyll (which is responsible for the green coloring) and normally grow close to shore.  Brown seaweeds on the other hand are found on rocky beaches. The brown colour is due to the pigment fucoxanthin, which overshadows the green pigment chlorophyll.  Fucoidan, found in kombu and wakame seaweed, helps provoke cell death by apoptosis and stimulate  immune cells, including the ‘NK’ cells.  Fucoxanthin (the phytochemical that constitutes the brown color of the seaweed) is effective in its capacity to inhibit cell growth in prostate cancer.  Nori contain the long chain omega 3 fatty acids and most effective against inflammation and indispensable to the proper functioning of neurons.  Edible seaweeds are: Nori, kombu, wakame, arame and dulse

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