|Potato Onions being harvested in the field!|
Welcome back to our newsletter series on an anti-cancer diet! You may have noticed that a Harmony Valley Farm CSA share always includes garlic and an allium (onions, chives, leeks, etc) every week. It is widely known that garlic and onions are the building blocks of flavor. However, as you may recall, Drs. Beliveau and Gingras, authors of Foods to Fight Cancer, also recommend alliums as some of the strongest plants available to fight cancer, especially esophageal, stomach, prostate, kidney, colon, lung and breast cancer. Just to refresh your memory, alliums also combat neurological, immunological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, as well as the process of aging.
Garlic in particular has been mentioned throughout history as a medicinal food more than any other plant that we regularly consume. Sumerian tablets contain references to garlic as early as 3000 BC. (Anti-Cancer, p. 135) The Ancient Egyptians were known to consume garlic in great numbers. Tutankhamen’s tomb contained garlic. The Codex Ebers, a medical papyrus from 1500 BC, lists over 20 garlic-based remedies for such vast symptoms as headaches, worms, high blood pressure and tumors. (p. 79)
The Ancient Greeks and Romans also used garlic. Pliny the Elder wrote in Natural History no less than sixty-one garlic cures for infections, respiratory problems, digestive issues and lack of energy. In the Middle Ages, garlic was used to fight the plague, and in the 18th century, scurvy and asthma. In 1858, Louis Pasteur proved that garlic has powerful antibiotic capabilities. (p. 80) During WWII, Russian soldiers used so much garlic that it was nicknamed “the Russian penicillin.” (Anti-Cancer, p. 135)
|Ramps fresh from the woods|
Garlic and onions are powerful because they contain sulfur molecules. While a garlic clove remains intact, it is storing and accumulating a compound called alliin. When the clove is crushed, chopped or chewed, the enzyme alliinase is released, mixes with the alliin, and changes into allicin. Allicin is what you smell when you macerate garlic. Allicin is the cancer-fighting molecule that we are interested in. (p. 81)
The best way to maximize stable allicin in your body is to eat garlic raw, however we all know that this is not always preferable. Researchers in Wisconsin and Argentina found that letting chopped garlic stand for 10 minutes before adding it to cooked dishes allowed enough time for the allicin to stabilize so that it doesn’t break down during the cooking process. So chop your garlic, prep something else, and add it to your dish 10 minutes later. (Cavagnaro, et al.) In addition, the most effective way to increase your body’s absorption of allicin is by mixing it with oil. And you thought this was because it tastes good!
|Garlic and Onions on our Farmers Market stand|
DAS and other compounds also activate cancer cell apoptosis, which is a ritual suicidal process for cells known to have damage at the DNA level. These compounds may also make it more difficult for cancer cells to resist chemotherapy drugs. (p. 84)
Onions have some very special molecules as well. They contain polyphenols such as quercetin, which prevents cancer cells from growing by interfering with their development. The authors add that the compound which causes the user to cry, propanethial S-oxide, is not essential to the anti-cancer process. Don’t rinse your onions to alleviate crying, however, as this will wash away the beneficial compounds.
Another way alliums help to fight cancer is by regulating blood sugar levels when combined with other foods. Maintaining balanced blood sugar is important for reducing insulin secretion and IGF (Insulinlike Growth Factor). When we consume a lot of glucose, our bodies release insulin and IGF to allow the glucose to enter our cells. IGF stimulates cell growth. Unfortunately, too much insulin and IGF promote inflammation, feed tumors, increase a tumor’s ability to invade neighboring tissue, and make cancer cells less susceptible to chemotherapy. (Anti-Cancer, p. 67)
How much garlic and/or onions or other alliums we need to eat in order for these compounds to be effective is currently under study. Researchers in Italy, Switzerland and China showed reductions in cancer growth in people who ate 1 clove of garlic or ½ a cup of onions per day (Collins).
With this in mind, you can see why we at Harmony Valley Farm make sure to include garlic and one allium in your CSA box every week. To your health!
Beliveau, Richard and Denis Gingras. Foods to Fight Cancer, 2007. (cited as page number only)
Servan-Schreiber, David. Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, 2009. (cited as Anti-Cancer, page number)
Cavagnaro, Pablo F., Alejandra Camargo, Claudio R. Galmarini, Philipp W. Simon, “Effect of Cooking on Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Antiplatelet Activity and Thiosulfinates Content,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 55, No. 4, Jan. 2007.
Collins, Karen, “Onions and Garlic for Your Health,” AICR.org. American Institute for Cancer Research, Feb. 26, 2007.