Did you know that up to 40 percent of women ages 40 to 50 may have tiny cancers in their breasts—no larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen? Microscopic tumors are forming all the time, but our body's natural cancer-fighting system usually prevents them from growing large enough to cause harm. A key component of this system is angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels.
"Angiogenesis is what makes the difference between a small, innocuous cancer and a runaway, dangerous disease," says William Li, MD, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation. Already about a dozen drugs battle cancer by keeping blood vessel growth in check, but Li is even more excited by research that shows that adding certain foods to our diet can have a similar effect.
Many of the foods that contain angiogenesis-inhibiting compounds are also rich in antioxidants, which may contribute to their anticancer benefits. But as Li explains, "The jury is still out on whether antioxidants are truly effective at preventing cancer, yet controlling blood vessel growth has been proven to make a profound difference." Initial study results are startling: Asian-American women who ate soy at least once a week throughout their lives reduced their risk of breast cancer by 60 percent; Chinese women who drank a cup of green tea at least three times a week cut their colon cancer risk by 34 percent. Other natural antiangiogenic foods include red wine, cooked tomatoes, blueberries, garlic, and dark chocolate.
According to Li, future research will focus on which specific varieties of foods are most potent. "We may one day soon be able to pinpoint the exact species of tomato or type of red wine that offers the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to discouraging tumor growth," he says. "Doctors will truly be able to recommend foods to fight cancer and know they're having a meaningful effect."See the Angiogenesis Foundation's list of the top 33 antiangiogenic foods