Diet and cancer: the missing link

New stats reveal almost half of the UK are unaware of crucial link between diet and cancer development

Surprising new statistics reveal that 41% of the British population are oblivious to the role that diet plays in the development of cancer — and even those with a family history of the disease are failing to consume potentially 'cancer-preventing' compounds in their daily diet.

The World Health Organisation suggests that at least one third of all cancer cases are preventable. Although the UK population appears to take certain cancer prevention strategies seriously (with 52% regularly protecting their skin from sun damage, 31% doing regular exercise and 41% refraining from smoking to help keep cancer at bay), new data reveals that only a quarter adapt their diet in a bid to reduce their cancer risk.

Experts suggest that while a balanced diet may help reduce overall disease risk, it doesn’t necessarily address the specifics of preventing individual cancers. However, research indicates that key cancer-preventing nutrients can be obtained from a selection of commonly available dietary ingredients, including

  • tomatoes (containing the compound lycopene — which may be protective against breast, prostate and liver cancer)
  • curcumin (a compound found in the spice turmeric, linked a reduction in bowel, breast, pancreatic and liver cancer)
  • pomegranate (which has supportive health properties in the prostate gland)
  • green tea (contains antioxidants linked to a reduction in bowel, prostate, pancreatic and liver cancer).

The survey demonstrates a worryingly low daily intake of these nutrients across the UK population — with just 8% of people consuming tomatoes, 6% drinking green tea, 2% consuming curcumin and just 1% eating pomegranate each day. The data shows no increase in awareness or consumption among those with a family history of cancer, who may be at an increased risk.

Oncology Dietitian Tara Whyand is keen to encourage greater consumption of these key nutrients, but admits that it can be difficult to obtain apparently optimal doses from whole foods alone. She comments: 'You would need to eat a large amount of tomatoes each day to consume a high concentration of the antioxidant lycopene, which is unrealistic for most people.'

To help combat this issue, a unique range of dietary supplements has been launched, containing evidence-based formulations designed to help reduce the risk of certain diseases. The supplements, called ProfBiotics, (www.profbiotics.com), have been developed by medical and nutritional experts specifically to support the well-being of the bowel, prostate, breasts, pancreas and liver. They contain high levels of nutrients linked by research to cancer protection — including lycopene, curcumin, pomegranate, green tea, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, vitamin B1 and zinc.

Justin Stebbing, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Oncology at Imperial College London, is supportive of the initiative. He comments: 'Any approach that may help reduce cancer risk utilising diet and appropriate nutrients is of huge potential value for individuals and society. The combinations used in these products are in line with the results of scientific research studying different tumour types and represent a new approach to tackling cancer incidence through diet and nutrient supplementation. The formulations may also have a role during and after cancer treatment for nutritional support, and to counter adverse effects of chemotherapies.'