There were several presentations about the effects of diet and exercise at the Prevention meeting.

Several foods and dietary habits are associated with decreased cancer risk. Diets high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (like olive and canola oil), green tea and red wine (one glass a day) are associated with a decreased cancer risk. Research is also being done to investigate the possible cancer-fighting properties of curcumin (found in the popular Indian curry spice turmeric). Reservatrol, a phytochemical found in the skin of red grapes, is also being investigated for anti-cancer properties. Natural compounds in the vegetables broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts are believed to boost the body’s ability to repair damaged DNA and possibly prevent cells from turning cancerous.

Phytocehmicals are chemical compounds in fruits and vegetables that are felt to offer the protective cancer benefit. These chemicals give fruits and vegetables their color and flavor. It is believed these chemicals evolved as natural protection for plants against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and damage to cell structures, especially DNA, from the environment.

There may come a time when these phytochemicals are mass produced and sold as supplements in drug stores…but why try to duplicate what nature has already provided? The perfect solution may be to eat an orange….or some broccoli or some grapes. I read once that there are 200 different phytochemicals in a single orange. It could be the amounts and combinations of these phytochemicals chemicals in these foods accounts for their health benefit. While nutrients obtained from healthful foods protect against cancer, nutrients obtained from over-the-counter supplements are not always protective. Beta carotene supplements are now associated with increased lung cancer risk in smokers, and too much folate and vitamin B12 may increase the risk of methylation and the epigenetic silencing of genes. It seems the best way to obtain many of the helpful compounds is directly from the healthy foods.

On the flip side, some dietary habits encourage cancer….diets high in red meat and alcohol, for instance, encourage the formation of some kinds of cancer.

The cancer benefit of exercise was also discussed at the meeting. As it turns out even for those who are overweight there is a cancer prevention benefit from exercise. Cancer risk is decreased 30-40% in those who exercise vigorously for four hours a week and decreases 20% for those who exercise moderately for 5 hours a week. There is an exercise benefit even for those who are overweight.