Cancer Awareness

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How antioxidants play a role in cancer prevention

Each year, about 1.4 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, while a National Post breakdown notes that every hour an average of 20 Canadians are diagnosed with this deadly disease. Although the causes of each particular case of cancer may be unknown, doctors do know that a combination of heredity and environmental influences can contribute to cancer risk. It's also known that the foods a person eats can help increase his or her chances of preventing cancer.

Free radicals and antioxidants

Antioxidants often come up in conversations about cancer prevention. Many people understand that antioxidants can be beneficial in a diet but may not be entirely sure what role they play in cancer prevention.

Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have the ability to harm cells. Formed naturally in the body, free radicals play important roles in cellular processes. But at high concentrations, free radicals can be hazardous to DNA and other cell components. In addition, free radicals form from the damaging effects of processed foods, radiation, tobacco, and pollution.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances found abundantly in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E. Alpha lipoic acid, lycopene, coenzyme Q10, and selenium are antioxidants or substances that work with antioxidants to maximize the disease-fighting potential of the immune system. The body also makes some of the antioxidants it uses to neutralize free radicals, which are called endogenous antioxidants.

Antioxidants go after free radicals and essentially consume them, neutralizing their damaging effects to the body. In laboratory and animal studies, the presence of increased levels of antioxidants has been shown to prevent the types of free radical damage that can be associated with cancer. Some research points to taking antioxidant supplements to help prevent cancer, but such studies have yielded mixed results.

Increasing antioxidant intake

The best way to get antioxidants into your body is through healthy, low-fat foods. Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. High-fiber foods also are beneficial. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guidelines recommend men and women consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

Black and green tea also are healthy sources of antioxidants, and some research has suggested tea can help prevent cancer.

A combination of healthy, antioxidant-rich foods and beverages can make for a  great defense against cancer. Loading up on nutrient-rich foods will keep the body in top form, which goes a long way toward reducing cancer risk.