Wise Words
A moment with Kedar Prasad, PhD, cancer researcher and coauthor of Fight Cancer With Vitamins and Supplements

Q: What is the most important thing readers can do to safeguard their health?

A: Diet, lifestyle, and antioxidant supplementation are all part of a triangle and they are equally important. You have to eat a low-fat diet with lots of vegetables and very few meat and dairy products. If you take a multivitamin and eat fast food every day, it won’t do you much good. You have to exercise. You also need to take a multivitamin twice a day, because few people can get all the nutrients they need for optimal health and disease prevention from their diets.

Q: Does it matter what kind of multivitamin you take?

A: Absolutely. Most multivitamins sold over the counter contain iron, copper, and manganese, and it is very well-known that those three minerals interact with vitamin C and generate free radicals. Free radicals are naturally occurring molecules in the body that are responsible for the aging process; they damage DNA, cells, and tissues, and eventually contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. Many multivitamins also contain other heavy metals, such as boron, vanadium, zirconium, and molybdenum. Sufficient amounts of these metals are obtained from the diet, so the daily consumption of excess amounts over a long period of time can be neurotoxic.

Q: Is the time of day that you take your multivitamin important?

A: Many studies suggest that most foods have naturally occurring toxic as well as protective substances, which is why a balanced diet alone may not prevent disease. By taking your supplemental antioxidants right before a meal, you may help prevent the formation of cancer-causing agents and limit their carcinogenic effects. Divide your multivitamin into two, and take half of it before your meal in the morning and the other half before your meal at night. If you take the multivitamin just once a day in the morning, half of the vitamins are excreted from your body by the evening.

Q: What would a cancer-prevention diet look like?

A: Studies estimate that eating a Western diet—high in fat and low in fiber and vegetables—contributes to about 40 percent of all human cancers. Saturated fats are well-known to raise the risk for heart disease, but excess fat of any type can raise the risk of cancer. This may be because, in women, excess fat increases the levels of circulating estrogen, which is a tumor promoter. The USDA recommends 20 percent of a person’s daily calories should come from fat, but fat makes up 40 percent of the average American diet.

High levels of fiber may lower the risk of certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Also, the consumption of nitrite-rich food, such as bacon, sausage, and cured lunchmeats, form nitrosamines in the stomach, a potential cancer-causing agent. Vitamins C and E taken in combination avert this formation, which is one example of why taking supplemental antioxidants is important.

Q: What other dietary factors raise cancer risk?

A: Excess protein is unhealthy; it has been shown to increase the incidence of chemically induced tumors in animal studies. How you prepare your food also matters. Cooking meat over charcoal is very popular, but it increases your cancer risk, because as the fat drips down onto the hot coals it generates smoke that contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—a powerful cancer-causing agent. If you are going to grill meat, remove as much fat as possible. Using a propane grill is better than using charcoal; if you are using charcoal, put the meat as far away from the coals as possible. Drinking more than five cups of coffee per day—with or without caffeine—also increases your cancer risk, because it increases the frequency of radiation- and chemical-induced mutations in the cells. Bladder, pancreatic, and stomach cancers are all higher in heavy coffee drinkers.

Q: What is your diet, and how do you supplement?

A: I eat mostly fish and a lot of vegetables and fresh fruits, especially berries. Occasionally, I enjoy bacon and sausage. I meditate 20 minutes a day and do moderate exercise four to five days a week. I also take these supplements: one multivitamin without iron, copper, manganese, or heavy metals; vitamin C (2 grams); vitamin E succinate (400 IU); Co-Q10 (15 mg); and alpha-lipoic acid (30 mg).

—Joysa Maben Winter