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Food that heals

David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., is a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine. At the young age of 31, David was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, which he fought and won.

A few years later, the tumor came back. This time he decided to add complimentary treatments to the conventional treatment plan in hopes of improving his odds for a total cure. In doing so, he embarked upon an extensive journey to find research-based information on effective complementary treatments.

His goal was to find credible information that he, and other patients, can use in conjunction with conventional treatments -- not as a substitute. On this point, he was adamant.

After years of scouring scientific journals, attending conferences in the U.S. and Europe, and interviewing other researchers, he organized his collection of information into a book, so it could be shared with those in treatment -- or those wishing to avoid it.

His book, Anti Cancer -- a New Way of Life, was published in 2008.

Dr. Schreiber's book promotes a holistic approach of medical treatment that involves a multi-faceted approach to treating disease. His primary emphasis is food, which will also be the focus of this series of articles. His other concepts of complementary treatment are no less compelling, but reach beyond the scope of my work in food production and nutrition.

Using food for health and healing is nothing new. Eastern medicine has a long and rich history of using plants and foods for disease prevention and healing. Western medicine has been slower to adapt this concept, but times are changing. The top rated cancer treatment centers (M.D. Anderson, Sloan-Kettering, John Hopkins and Mayo Clinic) now use some component of nutrition in cancer treatment.

The Hippocratic Oath is taken by physicians vowing to the ethical practice of medicine. In that oath, one of the foremost principles is to do no harm. The following list of foods has a long history of safety; nonetheless, it's only prudent to discuss any significant dietary changes with your physician, especially if you're receiving medical treatment.

The following list of healing foods is not outlandish or exotic. However, due to our ethnic heritage, a few spices may be unfamiliar. Everything on this list is easily accessible, tends to be inexpensive, or can be grown in your garden. Best of all, everything on this list has a research base behind it and cannot be patented. It is exactly these reasons that drug companies do not promote them -- there's little opportunity for profit.

- Green tea is rich in polyphenols, including catechins (especially EGCG), which reduce the growth of new vessels needed for tumor growth and metastases. It's also a powerful antioxidant and detoxifier and facilitates the death of tumor cells. Japanese green tea is richer in EGCG than Chinese tea. Tea needs to be steeped up to 10 minutes for maximum release and should be consumed within an hour or two. Black tea is made by fermenting green tea leaves, but because of the fermentation process, much of the beneficial EGCG is lost.

- Turmeric is the yellowish spice commonly used in Indian (not Native Americans) cooking, and is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory identified today. (Inflammation and tumor growth go hand in hand.) It also aids in the death of cancer cells and helps prevent the development of new blood vessels needed by tumors. Turmeric, whose active ingredient is curcumin, is most effective when combined with black pepper and olive oil during cooking. Indians, who consume an average of pi teaspoon daily, experience about 1/10 of cancer as Americans.

- Ginger root is another powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant -- even more effective than vitamin E. It's effective against certain cancer cells and helps reduce the formation of new blood vessels.

- Cabbage and other crucifers like broccoli, bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower, contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols. Both compounds are capable of detoxifying certain carcinogenic substances. They help prevent precancerous cells from developing and also promote the suicide of cancer cells. Boiling destroys much of these two compounds, so steaming or stir-frying in olive oil is the preferred method of preparation.

n Garlic is one of the oldest medicinal herbs with a wonderfully dual purpose. Not only is garlic a delicious ingredient in a vast variety of dishes, but has long been known for its antibacterial properties, first discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1858. Since that time, it's been used widely for its antibiotic properties when conventional drugs were not available. Even today, garlic preparations are the first line of defense in treating bacterial infections in livestock on organic farms, where antibiotics are banned.

It's not just garlic, but the entire onion family (onion, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives) which contain sulfur compounds that reduce the carcinogenic effects of nitrosamines and associated compounds. They promote cell death in colon, breast, lung and prostate cancer, as well as leukemia. Studies suggest a reduction of kidney and prostate cancer in people who consume the most garlic.

Garlic also reduces insulin secretion and IGF (insulinlike growth factor) which is helpful in curbing the growth of cancer cells. Garlic is utilized best when dissolved in olive oil during cooking, but can also be used raw.

Next week, I'll cover the rest of the list of foods that heal. In the final segment, I'll include a list of foods to avoid -- and why.

To learn more, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

The material contained in this article is adapted from "Anti Cancer - a New Way of Life." If you'd like greater detail, check with your local public library or favorite bookstore.