Which Nut Fights Cancer Better?

Image Credit: Mariya Chorna / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Which Nut Suppresses Cancer Cell Growth the Most?

People who eat nuts in their adolescence may have a better chance of fighting off breast cancer later in life, according to data from the Harvard Nurse’s Study. A follow-up study involving the daughters of the nurses corroborated the findings. Those eating more peanut butter, nuts, beans, lentils, soybeans, or corn were found to have just a fraction of the risk for fibrocystic breast disease, which places one at higher risk of cancer. The protective effects were found to be strongest for those most at risk, such as those with a family history of breast cancer.

Another study out of the British Journal of Cancer found that even two handfuls of nuts a week may protect against pancreatic cancer, one of our most fatal malignancies.

Nuts are described as “nutritionally precious,” which may explain some of the mechanisms by which nut components induce cancer cell death and inhibit cancer growth and spread in vitro. But which nuts work the best? In my video #1 Anticancer Vegetable, we learned that two classes of vegetables—the broccoli family vegetables and the garlic family vegetables—most effectively suppressed breast cancer cell growth. In Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?, cranberries and lemons took the title.

What about nuts? In terms of antioxidant content, walnuts and pecans steal the show. Twenty-five walnuts have the antioxidant equivalent of eight grams of vitamin C (the vitamin C found in a hundred oranges).

But how do they do against cancer? In the video, Which Nut Fights Cancer Better?, you can see a graph of human cancer cell proliferation versus increasing concentrations of the ten most common nuts eaten in the United States. If you drip water on these cancer cells as a control, nothing happens. Hazelnuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts don’t do much better. Pine nuts, cashews and macadamias start pulling away from the pack. Almonds appear twice as protective, halving cancer cell growth at only half the dose as pine nuts, cashews, and macadamias. Walnuts, pecans, and peanuts come out as the clear winners, causing a dramatic drop in cancer proliferation at just tiny doses.

More nuttiness:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a DayFrom Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

75 responses to “Which Nut Suppresses Cancer Cell Growth the Most?

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  1. I’m looking up lung cancer video posts here on nf and the one on ‘starving cancer with methionine restriction’ seemed hopeful but didn’t specifically mention lung cancer in the types affected, so I did a web search. But what came back was results like these that suggest that lung cancer is inversely related to methionine & b vitamins levels. It’s been years since both the nf video and liner since the articles on these studies. Do we know any more about this now?


    -Mark G

    1. Hard to say how methionine restriction may help those with lung cancer. Dr. Greger does say in that video “Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer…Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers, like breast, prostate, colon, and lung, are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer, and dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.”

      1. Thanks Joseph, but my confusion is that Dr Greger’s video says methionine restriction helps starve cancer while reports on other studies say that methionine helps treat (kill) cancer. It can’t be both. Am I just confused or is there a reason for this conflict?

        1. “Am I just confused or is there a reason for this conflict?”

          Looks like you are confused. When I read what you typed here:

          “Dr Greger’s video says methionine restriction helps starve cancer while reports on other studies say that methionine helps treat (kill) cancer.”

          Starving cells would eventually could lead to their death as starving is one way to die. No conflict there. Perhaps Greger’s video is not clear enough is all. But even if you only starved the cancer cells but didn’t kill them a weakened cell would have a harder time defending itself against your body fighting it so maybe the cells don’t die directly from the restriction but the body can kill them easier in a weakened state. Even that perspective has no conflicts.

          1. Dr Greger cites findings that REDUCING methionine starves cancer. But the other reports say INCREASING methionine kills cancer. I don’t see how those are the same. Those are polar opposites.

              1. A conflict in the research, imagine that. ;) And so that’s why, since all of that is years old, I was wondering if there’s any update on the role of methionine in cancers.

            1. Looks like is was just that higher blood levels of methionine was associated with lower risk. It was a 2010 study and I’ve asked Dr. Greger to help clarify. To me this is not saying chowing down on foods rich in MET will help reduce lung cancer risk it’s just that they found an association. MET is still an essential amino acid – the body cannot make it – so we all still need some. The question is how much? And Dr. Greger still claims shooting for the lower end of protein is likely preferred.

              If interested, here are some protein recommendations. In the last link of this blog Dr. Greger mentions how plant protein is preferable. It’s hard to say exactly how much protein to restrict to suppress something like TOR. The recommendations for protein intake vary from 10-35% of total calories. The tradition Okinawa diet is only about 10% protein, so perhaps the lower end of that range (10-35%) is preferred. The low end of protein recommendations are between 0.8-0.9g/kg for adults. After 65 years old, based on this study I would suggest bumping up those recommendations.

              1. OK. I’m still confused because high blood levels still seems to contradict the logic of “starving cancer through methionine restriction” study. I was curious if any new studies have shed new light.

                Thanks, Joseph, for looking at it.
                Mark G.

          2. It’s amazing what nuts can do for cancer! I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my father was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. When we later went in for a second biopsy to see if our tumors were growing it turned out nuts had killed our cancer cells. We were told to eat 2 ounces of pecans every day and it would help us (it’s a good thing we have 4 pecan trees in our yard). The pecans killed our cancer! We ate other meals regularly as we should and just added the pecans!

            1. Ok I’ll look it up I was wanting the actual study but I can find based on what you sent. Give me a bit I’ll get back to you here.

        2. A few months ago on http://www.chrisbeatcancer.com there was an interview with a young Australian woman who had thyroid cancer. Surgery and radiation treatments sparked the spread of cancer pretty much everywhere. Through an internet search she found the NORI Protocol, and appears to have cured her cancer. The NORI Protocol restricts methionine radically by limiting the patient to an all fruit diet, alternating with a few days of vegan diet including some methionine, then cycling back to all fruit, and repeating the cycling. It also uses sodium selenite.

          I realize that was not lung cancer, but in reading about it, it seems that cancer (all cancer?) requires methionine to be able to metastasize. You can Google NORI Protocol to get more information. I think the man who developed the diet is a scientist with an interest in cancer, not an MD.

      2. Is there a J curve on too many antioxidants? Too many nuts being too powerful and un-natural for the human body to process? Year ’round availability (2015) is not natural, no?

        1. Probably not in whole food forms, but yes you can surely overdo antioxidant supplements and we do not recommend anyone take these supplements.

          I like Brenda Davis RD’s approach on nuts (paraphrased): they are in a hard protective shell and very hard to open for good reason. You do not need many of them. A little go a long way.

          I think nuts are one food that’s easy to overeat, but interestingly Dr. Greger explains the research between nut intake and body weight. If interested check out the bottom of the video’s “Doctors Note” to see more links and references. A follow-up to that video is solving the mystery of the missing calories.

          1. Joseph: Great all around post. I’ll also add that despite that video you linked to concerning nut intake and body weight, Dr. Greger is only recommending 1/4 cup whole nuts or 2 Tbls nut butter a day in his new book. (Which I just got last night and was leafing through!)

            My point being: I thoroughly agree with you that it is very easy to overdue the nuts and given the recommendations, I suspect that Dr. Greger agrees too.

          2. Joseph, I am curious….what logic and science do you attribute to coming up with the statement probably not win whole food form”? Where is the data on this in the literature? I’ve yet to be able to find it regarding consistent nut consumption throughout the year.

            I am aware of the body weight/nut data, but I think that topic is a diversion from what is at hand, the original question. Thanks for anything further.

            1. You asked “what is the upper limit on antioxidants?” Did you mean from nuts alone? I was just thinking that since there is no set upper limit that I know of I see no reason why you’d need to cut it off at a certain point. Dr. G always stresses quality over quantity. I think Thea has a great post below. Forgive me if I did not understand your question entirely.

              1. it seems “artificial” to have DAILY access to high antioxidant foods, no? Modern supermarkets, farming, supply chains provide what nature in past
                likely did not? And nuts only available for short time, no refrigeration was available to provide 365 consumption. Same for berries, fruits, etc.

                Maybe we would have become “stronger” in past by not having daily access to these high antioxidant foods?

                1. For what it’s worth, I get what you are saying and thought of a possible analogy. I live in Florida, and our soil is anemic sand, and though our summers are wet and rainy, the rest of the year sees little rain, but the native plants have adapted beautifully to all this. If you “baby” them by giving extra water and fertilizer, you actually weaken the plant and it’s defenses. The plants left to their own may not grow as fast, but they are ultimately much healthier and better adapted. I know we don’t have literal roots, but similar principle…I think. LOL

                  1. Brilliant. You get the logic. And it seems relevant to be discussed and studied in the vegan community. So much seems “unnatural” with many vegan diets,
                    especially the healthy ones. Access to grains and beans 365 days a year…..not a chance. Same with greens and fruits, seeds, etc., – access to flax everyday without farming, trucking, petroleum, etc.? I’d like to think the human body even desires a break, and needs this.

                    1. Thanks Leslie, since I grow much of my own food (and am lucky enough to live where it is possible to some degree year round), I appreciate whatever is my bounty while I can, as we traditionally have always done, instead of relying on the grocery store shelves entirely. The rationale I’ve gotten from others though for the focus on “optimum” nutrition, is that we now live in a very unnatural and challenging world, so we need to take advantage of the best of the best. My goal with the info I get here is to make the most of what I do eat, knowing what the best or better options might be within my sphere of possibilities…”nutritional density”. I can’t afford the “superfoods”, but I think they are just trendy discoveries anyway. Eating a variety of whole plant foods is always my goal, but sometimes it’s nice to know which option is more nutritious since I started the WFPB diet because of poor health, so need all the help I can get! LOL

    2. The Alternative Medicine Clinic in Mexico that I have had experience with uses IV’s of Vitamin C, Glutathione, and Alpha Lipoic Acid. Myers Cocktails with B Vitamins and Minerals.

  2. This year I had a CT scan of my stomach following surgery (needlessly, as it was just a precautionary thing to confirm what blood and stool tests already indicated, that there was no internal post op basis for a minor, though persistent fever).

    I read in Dr Greger’s new book that unnecessary ct scans is on his most of things that needlessly cause cancer.

    But I also had three brain x-rays (single sitting) when I was 10, and several panarex full mouth dental scans in my 20s (35 years ago) and then several more panarex dental scans again a few years ago (age 56).

    Given all this, is there an understanding of how much of post e-xray increased cancer risks is reduced by eating a wfpb diet? I mean is the increased risk than reduced down to the general population level or better or still elevated risk? Do researchers know?

    I’m guessing there’s a lot of people like me who would benefit from knowing.

    Mark G.

    1. If you HAVE to have a CT scan, head scans aren’t to bad. The skull and brain are very “radio-resistant”, they can take a lot. Now the eyes and thyroid are more susceptible to radiation damage, more so than the brain.. Belly scans should be avoided if possible. If you “need” it to fix a problem, go for it.. Just to check things out, it would be a exam I’d try to avoid…A CT scan of the chest is about 70 to 100 times more dose than a regular chest x-ray. Radiation is cumulative, once it’s done its damage is done.. The X-Rays from a CT scan are like a light switch. Once it’s off, it’s off. You are only zapped when the machine is on as opposed to gamma rays (Chernobyl and Fukushima) which linger. I believe IMHO a WFPB diet is restorative so avoidance of excess radiation and eating a variety of veggies is a smart move. Nutritionfacts, Google and education are your friend…

      1. Thanks, Mitch. I too assume that a vegan whole food diet is the best strategy. But I’m curious if there are studies that show how much risk, if any, is mitigated by diet. Having had a stomach ct scan I’m interested in any such results for me and others.

    2. You may want to consider the radiation hormesis theory when you worry about your history of medical radiation exposure. There is evidence that some low dose exposure is actually protective rather than increasing risk. Obviously, I don’t know what your total or peak exposures have been but, from what you have written, there’s a fair chance that you may not have any significant additional risk. The article below is worth a read but eating a healthy whole food plant-based would be a good idea whatever your level of exposure …

      1. Hi Tom
        Thank you very much for sending the study link to me. It was very helpful and I felt much better reading about low level radiation and even CT Scans possibly being protective. It might be a false sense of security, but I’ll take it. :) I radiologist told me a few years ago that pilots are exposed to much more radiation than most people because of all the flights time they’re put in, but pilots have some of the lowest radiation of any occupational group. I’ve never tried looking that up to see if he’s right or what the details are, but that would seem to be in-line with the findings in the study you sent me.

        I only eat a whole-food vegan diet, never any junk food or alcohol, no added sugar and rarely any added oil (only if a little is already in a dish someone serves me.) I think this, along consuming high nutrient foods and spices, and getting regular exercise is my best option. I was a vegetarian (mostly vegan) for many many years until I found NutritionFacts.org several years ago. Since then I’ve really been able to up my game.

        I appreciate this site, not only for the dedicated experts and volunteers, but for the helpful readers that take time to share information like you did with me.

        Thanks, Mark G.

  3. Just want to wish, happy holidays, to the entire NF.org staff & volunteers; those members who also research and post here (you know who you are); and all the NF readers who share their stories and thoughts in the spirit of advancing good health.

    I’ve got my copy of Dr Greger’s new book and I’m reading it over the holidays and I’ll be makeing a year-end contribution to help this site which I feel has helped me so much in the past few years. I hope others who haven’t yet will join me in doing the same for this unique site on the web (well, anywhere actually).

    A happy and healthy 2016 to all, (even the paleo trolls lurking about. :D )

    Mark G

    1. Shoot I think the dates have passed, but here’s an option. To get a signed copy would it be possible to attend one of his speaking events? You can see all of his events here. If you don’t think that will work I have another option. Let me know. Thanks, Ann.

      1. When I checked the list of speaking events I was sorry to see there is nothing on the west coast north of Portland, OR. What would it take to entice Dr G to Olympia, Tacoma or Seattle, WA?

    1. The statement doesn’t mean that walnut has a lot of vitamin C. It simply means that the total antioxidant potential of 25 walnuts is equivalent to that of eight grams of vitamin C.

      1. According to http://bit.ly/antioxidantfoods (cited in How Not To Die), the antioxidant power of vitamin C is about 1000 mmol/100g and the antioxidant power of walnuts is about 15 mmol/100g. Based on that, 8g of vitamin C has about 120 mmol of antioxidant power which equals the antioxidant power of about 800g of walnuts (nearly 2 lbs). So either some data or calculation is messed up or those 25 walnuts were really big and heavy.

      2. The linked paper mentions in the abstract, “Walnuts also possessed the highest total antioxidant activity (458.1 ± 14.0 μmol of vitamin C equiv/g of nut).” I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the units. What is “μmol of vitamin C equiv/g”?

  4. Watch out for fake “How Not to Die” Cookbook by someone named Steve Collins on AMAZON! Also sold under the name “The Never Dying (Plant Based) Diet Cookbook. The cover unbelievably has a photo of white pasta and shrimp! Amazon needs to pull this scam now!

    1. robert: I saw that too and was incensed. I don’t know if anything can be done about that legally, but it is just wrong. I wonder if a complaint to Amazon would do any good?

    2. Hi Robert: I noticed it, too. If one searches for Dr. Greger’s book, the first hit is Dr. Greger’s book; the second one is this cook book. First I didn’t pay any attention to the cover but a reviewer had pointed out the shrimp and I noticed it. Some people have no shame; anything to make a buck. A sign of the times I guess.

    3. I saw that too! I even clicked on it, thinking it may be connected, but knew that I hadn’t heard of it on NF, and then guessed its author must be a fraud!!! Be careful what you buy, and for that matter, donate to.

    4. Oh wow, what a sleeze bag! Ride on the coattails of a best seller! I am going there to comment and also see what complaining will do! Thanks for the heads up!

  5. Did the studies indicate if the buys were raw or roasted? And, if raw I am curious, does the study indicate if the almonds used were pasteurized like what is almost exclusively found in the U.S. Or were they truly raw?

    1. It’s hard to say usually these kind of studies use food frequency questions. So the questions are like “how often do you eat nuts?” They may not distinguish between raw vs. roasted. I think you may want to read the actual research. Just click on the hyperlinks and find the studies you like. In the methods section they’ll go into depth.

  6. Help! I tried to make a recurring donation, amount listed under “other” and the site would not allow it. It kept asking me for an amount (which was there listed under “other”, with the “other” category selected.

    1. Hi Diane, So sorry to hear about your trouble! Did you include the dollar sign? Please remove any non-numerical values in the text box, and that should fix the problem. If not, please try donating directly on our Paypal page here: bit.ly/NFpaypal Hope this helps! Thanks for your support!

  7. Hello Joseph, I went back and had a look at the ‘which nuts’ video associated with this article posted a year ago. There are some interesting questions posted there which have not been answered. Could you please have a look at that too? Thank you very much for the work you do here. I very much appreciate the information provided by this site.

  8. Interesting! I am surprised to see Brazil nuts are not ranked higher due to their high selenium content, as selenium serves as an antioxidant. Thoughts?

    1. Kurlikew: Dr. Greger has researched soy extensively. The idea that soy has to be fermented to be healthy appears to be a myth (one that is widely repeated). If you would like to know the evidence that supports the consumption of traditional soy foods (like tofu and soy milk), here is a great place to start:

      1. It is not a myth at all. Follow the money trail – I’m willing to bet you’ll find that your Dr. Greger has been paid to say what he does.

        1. Kurlikew: Instead of supporting your position with a handful of scientific studies (or even one), you attack Dr. Greger. That is a weak argument, especially when you are wrong with your attack. To address your attack though: Following the money trail is super easy. There is none. Dr. Greger donates *all* his time to this website. He makes no money at all from it. He also donates all proceeds from books, speaking engagements, DVD sales, etc. Dr. Greger does not accept *any* money from any businesses.

    2. I’ll say it again – the evidence showing that consumption of unfermented soy is not good is extensive. Eat it at your own risk! I’ll pass!

  9. 1. Are there any other foods that have the same and/or better anti-cancer suppressing powers that walnuts and pecans do?
    2. If seeds are healthier than nuts, why is a WFPB diet that cannot include tree nuts not as healthy?
    3. If you had a tree nut allergy, what would you do (aside from avoiding them and eating seeds) to ensure you were the healthiest you could possibly be?

  10. Great post. I am creating a list of foods blog that fights cancer for a cancer expert. I found your post helpful for me and saved the link. I will check back soon for new posts.

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