"Angiogenesis" is the process your body uses to build blood vessels. Your body consists of some 19 billion capillaries (the smallest blood vessels), which are the vessels for both life, and yes, in many cases, death, as Dr. William Li, explains during his fascinating TED lecture.
This is because cancerous cells, like all other cells in your body, cannot thrive without the oxygen and nutrients supplied by your capillaries.
Virtually all of your blood vessels are formed while you're in the womb, but there are still certain circumstances in adulthood when your body will grow new blood vessels.
Blood vessels are created each month to form the lining of a woman's uterus, for example. And during pregnancy, new blood vessels form the placenta, which connects and shuttles nutrients to the growing fetus.
"Your body has the ability to regulate the amount of blood vessels it needs at any given time," Li explains, and it does this through an elaborate system of stimulators and inhibitors.
"But for a number of diseases there are defects in this system," Li says.
In some cases, your body becomes incapable of "pruning back" extra blood vessels, and in others it cannot grow enough new ones.
In these situations, angiogenesis is out of balance, and a myriad of diseases result.
For example, insufficient angiogenesis (too few blood vessels) can lead to:
- Chronic wounds that will not heal
- Heart disease
- Erectile dysfunction
Excessive angiogenesis (too many blood vessels) promote diseases such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
According to Dr. Li, there are more than 70 major diseases, affecting more than a billion people worldwide -- which on the surface appear completely different from each other -- that all share abnormal angiogenesis as a common denominator.
"This realization allows us to reconceptualize the way we approach these diseases -- by controlling angiogenesis," Li says.
This is exciting, as I believe and have taught for years that your diet is the key to preventing diseases of all kinds, including cancer. Dr. Li's research explains, and scientifically validates what many of us have experienced, and our ancestors intuitively knew.
You are what you eat, and there are vast differences between a historically wholesome, nutritious diet, and the processed, chemical-based foods that pass for sustenance today.
Strategies for Starving Cancer, and Obesity
In his TED talk, Dr. Li focuses primarily on cancer, because angiogenesis is a hallmark of the disease. As stated earlier, cancer cells cannot grow into noticeable tumors without sufficient amounts of capillaries feeding them oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood.
As it turns out, the majority of people carry around microscopic cancer cell clusters in their bodies, but not everyone actually develops cancer.
This is because as long as your body has the ability to balance angiogenesis properly, it will prevent blood vessels from forming to feed these microscopic tumors. Trouble will only arise if, and when, the cancer cells manage to get their own blood supply, at which point they can transform from harmless to deadly.
"Anti-angiogenic therapy is the method of cutting off blood supply to the cancer," Li explains. "This can be done because tumor vessels, unlike healthy vessels, are abnormal and poorly constructed, and because of that, they're highly vulnerable to treatments that target them."
There are currently about a dozen different anti-angiogenic cancer drugs that, according to Li's statistics, have significantly increased survival rates.
However, the answer to the cancer epidemic is not just devising better drugs to treat it in its advanced stages. The answer is preventing cancer from occurring in the first place, and that's what's so exciting about Dr. Li's research.
Interestingly, obesity is also largely dependent on angiogenesis.
"Like tumor cells, fat cells grow when blood vessels grow," Li says. So in essence, a cancer-preventive diet is also an obesity-preventive diet.
The Cancer-Preventive Diet
Dr. Li believes the answer to cancer is to prevent angiogenesis, which can effectively starve any microscopic cancerous growths, preventing them from growing and becoming dangerous.
But how do you prevent angiogenesis, aside from using a drug?
As it turns out, "mother nature has laced a large number of foods, beverages and herbs with naturally occurring inhibitors of angiogenesis," says Li.
So by consuming these anti-angiogenetic foods you can naturally boost your body's defense system and prevent blood vessels from forming and feeding the microscopic tumors that exist in your body at any given time.
As shown on a graph in the video, diet accounts for at least 30-35 percent of all environmentally caused cancers.
So, "eating to starve cancer" could have a dramatic impact on cancer rates across the world.
According to Li, resveratrol from red grapes, for example, have been shown to inhibit abnormal angiogenesis by 60 percent. Even more potent is the ellagic acid found in strawberries.
Other anti-angiogenetic foods include:
Green tea Berries: strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries Cherries Red grapes Kale Turmeric Nutmeg Artichokes Parsley Garlic Tomato Maitake mushroom
Logically, different foods contain different potencies of anti-angiogenetic compounds. But interestingly, when researchers evaluated a combination of two of the LEAST potent teas, for example, they discovered that this combination tea had greater potency than any given tea by itself.
"There's synergy," Li states, which should come as no surprise to those of you who are well-versed in holistic nutrition.
Synergy is indeed what makes fresh, whole foods so potently nutritious! The sum is far greater than the individual parts, and this is why it's far more important to focus on eating a diet of whole, organic foods, rather than obsessing about individual nutrients.
Some Foods are As Potent, or More Potent than Anti-Angiogenetic Drugs!
In his lecture, Dr. Li shows a graph comparing anti-angiogenetic drugs with foods. It's a beautiful illustration of just how potent foods can be, because, as Li says, "foods hold their own, and in some cases are more potent than the drugs!"
Examples of foods equaling or exceeding the potency of drugs include parsley, garlic, and red grapes.
Dr. Li is now involved with creating the world's first rating system that will score foods according to their anti-angiogenetic, cancer-preventative properties. But there's really no reason to wait for a comprehensive list, because we already know that optimal health hinges on a healthy diet consisting of a wide variety of whole, organic foods.
Just like a single food contains synergistic compounds, and a combination of foods can work together synergistically, a healthy diet overall will help you prevent all manner of disease, including cancer, in more ways than one.
For example, balancing your insulin levels will have a beneficial, protective effect on a number of diseases, including cancer. And eating according to your nutritional type also has potent anti-cancer effects. When we treat cancer patients in our clinic, this is in fact one of the most powerful anti-cancer strategies we have.
Other Important Strategies that Can Help Prevent Cancer
It's virtually impossible to discuss cancer prevention today without discussing vitamin D, as the scientific evidence of its anti-cancerous benefits is truly impressive.
For example, intake of vitamin D3 and calcium could potentially prevent 58,000 new cases of breast cancer and 49,000 new cases of colorectal cancer annually in the United States and Canada, according to a complex computer prediction model.
This model also predicted that 75 percent of deaths from these cancers could be prevented with adequate intake of vitamin D3 and calcium.
Theories linking vitamin D to certain cancers have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies, according to epidemiologist Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Dr. Garland is widely regarded as the leading epidemiologist on vitamin D and its relation to health. He led one of the latest studies on vitamin D for cancer prevention and proposed a new model of cancer development -- dubbed DINOMIT-- that is centered on a loss of cancer cells' ability to stick together.
The model is a departure from the older model of cancer development, which centers on genetic mutations as the earliest driving forces behind cancer. According to Dr. Garland:
"The first event in cancer is loss of communication among cells due to, among other things, low vitamin D and calcium levels. In this new model, we propose that this loss may play a key role in cancer by disrupting the communication between cells that is essential to healthy cell turnover, allowing more aggressive cancer cells to take over."
So clearly, no cancer prevention plan is complete without this simple lifestyle modification.
Normalizing your vitamin D levels with safe amounts of sun exposure is one of the most effective, and least expensive, strategies that is available to most people. Ideally, you'll want to monitor your vitamin D levels to make sure your levels stay within a therapeutic range year-round.
Here are several additional strategies you can incorporate to virtually eliminate your cancer risk:
- Control your insulin levels by limiting your intake of processed foods and sugars as much as possible.
- Get appropriate amounts of animal-based omega-3 fats.
- Exercise. One of the primary reasons exercise works is that it drives your insulin levels down. Controlling insulin levels is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your cancer risks.
- Have a tool to permanently erase the neurological short-circuiting that can activate cancer genes. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is caused by emotions. It is likely that this factor may be more important than all the other physical ones listed here, so make sure this is addressed. My particular favorite tool for this purpose, as you may know, is the Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Only 25 percent of people eat enough vegetables, so by all means eat as many vegetables as you are comfortable with. Ideally, they should be fresh and organic. However, please understand that, frequently, fresh conventionally grown vegetables are healthier than organic ones that are older and wilted in the grocery store. They are certainly better than no vegetables at all, so don't use that as an excuse. If you are a carb nutritional type you may need up to 300 percent more vegetables than a protein nutritional type.
- Maintain an ideal body weight.
- Get enough high-quality sleep.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners and air pollution.
- Boil, poach or steam your foods, rather than frying or charbroiling them.