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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Ivy

Blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, typically originate in the bone marrow. These types of cancers affect the production of red blood cells and platelets, and inhibit the immune system such that it cannot properly ward off infection. 

Risk Factors for Blood Cancers

Certain lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, consumption of animal products may increase the probability of developing blood cancer. Just handling meat in a slaughter house or raising livestock (including poultry) may increase the risk of developing blood cancer. 

DNA damage from mutagenic compounds and viruses (bovine leukemia virus, for example) found in meat and dairy may be responsible for the increased risk. It is worth noting, however, that contact with pets does not pose the same danger as contact with animals we consider food, and having a pet in the house could be protective against certain cancers.

Dietary Prevention of Blood Cancers

A plant-based diet may help stop or reverse cancer. The phytates (IP6) found in beans, grains, nuts and seeds have been shown to inhibit the growth of all tested cancerous cell lines including human leukemia cells, while not affecting normal cells. Phytates target cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing activities, including detoxification, differentiation, and antiangiogenesis. Phytates augment natural killer cells in our body that hunt down and dispose of cancer cells and augment neutrophils, which is the immune system’s first line of defense. Phytates also cause cancer cells to stop acting like cancer cells and go back to acting like normal cells.

Antioxidant-rich foods may also enable our immune system to attack cancer. For example, açaí berries were found to boost immune cell function at extremely low doses in the laboratory. Antioxidant supplements, however, are no substitute for eating high-antioxidant whole foods, because supplements are not regulated and often do not actually contain any of the health promoting antioxidants listed on their labels.

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