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Show 1161: What Is the Evidence for Food as Medicine?

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In examining how our diets can alter angiogenesis, Dr. Li has turned up plenty of evidence for using food as medicine to beat cancer.
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This podcast runs approximately six minutes longer than the original broadcast because it contains additional material.

Angiogenesis–the growth and development of blood vessels in the body–may seem like an obscure topic. However, angiogenesis is a critical phase in the development of tumors. If it can be blocked when it is inappropriate, we don’t get cancer. If not, we may need all the resources of modern oncology to help us recover. Is there a way we can use food as medicine to regulate angiogenesis?

Oncologists haven't always been able to suggest things patients can do to help themselves recover from cancer. Lately, however, they have made progress in learning how we can recruit our own immune systems to fight off cancer. They have discovered that our gut microbiota, the balance of bacteria living in our large intestines, can have a significant impact on how well immunotherapy works against certain cancer. 

How Do We Influence Our Gut Microbiota?

Perhaps the most important influence on the microbiota within us is how we feed them. Fortunately, many of the foods they prefer are also beneficial for our own bodies and can help regulate angiogenesis–slow it when it is trying to feed a tumor or speed it up a bit when we need it for healing. There's quite a bit of evidence for this way of using food as medicine.

Food as Medicine to Prevent Cancer:

Dr. William Li wants us to understand that health is an active process. In addition, in his TED talks and his book, he tells us how we can eat to beat disease. Which foods will inhibit angiogenesis and which one promote it? How can our diet suppress the development of cancers? How can we utilize our microbiota as a defense system? He also has focused on how our body can regenerate itself, at least in part, and how our DNA repairs itself. What can we do to encourage and enhance these defense systems?

Some of the foods that Dr. Li discusses in this interview include broccoli sprouts, mushrooms (including ordinary white button mushrooms) and barley, rich in beta-glucans. Both green and black tea as well as stone fruits like plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots are great food as medicine. Onions and garlic are other foods that can activate the immune system. Here is our favorite mushroom-barley soup recipe.

Helen Graedon's Mushroom Barley Soup is more or less a no-recipe recipe, in the grand tradition of experienced cooks. Saute chopped onion, about a cup, in your favorite oil. Add about half a cup each of chopped carrot and celery and a cup and a half of chopped fresh mushrooms. When the onions are soft and the mushrooms beginning to turn golden, add about two quarts of broth. Helen usually used homemade beef broth, but chicken or vegetable broth also works. Add about a cup of barley and around six ounces of dried mushrooms, soaked, and simmer until the barley is done. (This might take 40 minutes, depending on whether the barley is pearled or not.) Add a good big handful of chopped parsley before serving. If Helen had leftover peas, green beans or lima beans, she'd add them towards the end of the cooking. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.

This Week’s Guest:

William W. Li, MD, is an internationally renowned, Harvard-trained medical doctor, researcher, and president and a founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation. His groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments, has impacted more than 50 million people worldwide, and covers more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views. Dr. Li has served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and presented at the Vatican’s Unite to Cure conference.

Dr. Li is the author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

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