Underweight and Cancer, Fennel, Flavonoids

Q: How does being underweight affect cancer risk?
Q: Is it true that the vegetable fennel has particular “cancer-fighting” ability?
Q: What are flavonoids?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How does being underweight affect cancer risk?
A: While underweight men and women have higher overall mortality rates than people of normal weight, this association is not seen in deaths resulting from cancer. In fact, rates of death from cancer among the underweight are not any higher than among people of normal weight. That said, some factors associated with being underweight can and do raise risk for certain cancers. Current and former smokers who are underweight have a higher risk of lung cancer. A diet lacking in basic nutrients can impair immune function and raise risk of several types of cancer. In general, however, it’s excess body fat that raises risk for cancer. Healthy individuals who don’t carry too much of it – those on the lower end of the healthy weight range (a BMI of 18.5 to 22) – are the ones who have the lowest cancer risk.

Q: Is it true that the vegetable fennel has particular “cancer-fighting” ability?
A: Adding fennel – also known as anise – to your vegetable repertoire is a great idea as it provides several vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for very few calories (less than 30 calories per cup). A member of the carrot family, fennel is distinguished by its large bulb with feathery, celery-like stalks. While some research hails anethole, a natural compound found in fennel, for its anti-cancer properties, crowning the vegetable a “cancer super-fighter” is premature. Some laboratory studies point to anethole’s potential to reduce cancer risk by decreasing inflammation or by affecting cell signaling and growth control. However, these studies are too limited and provide no clue to the effects in humans, especially in amounts found in food. Regardless of its role in fighting disease, fennel is a good source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fiber and contains several antioxidant flavonoid phytochemicals. It adds a unique fresh taste to foods with a hint of anise flavor. Slices of the white bulb are a common part of an Italian antipasto salad, but can also be added to any salad or stir-fry and make a great accompaniment to fish. The stalks are a nice addition to soups, and the feathery leaves can be used like any fresh herb in salads or to flavor fish or poultry.

Q: What are flavonoids?
A: Flavonoids are a group of natural substances found in many vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dried beans, tea and wine. They are part of a larger family of plant compounds called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals act as a plant’s natural defense system, protecting the plant from disease and infection. In humans flavonoids act as powerful antioxidants, which means they can prevent damage to our cells by stabilizing DNA-damaging “free radicals.” Flavonoids’ role in preventing DNA damage is linked to cancer prevention. In addition, these compounds may also inhibit cancer development by slowing cell growth and reproduction. Researchers also believe that by preventing damage to blood vessel walls, antioxidant flavonoids help protect against heart disease. Studies don’t lend any support to a need for additional flavonoid supplemention, however. In fact, scientists warn that high dose supplements of flavonoids could be too much of a good thing. Boosting vegetable and fruit intake to five to ten servings daily, as recommended by experts like the American Institute for Cancer Research, is the best way to ensure a healthy range of flavonoid consumption.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

Share.

About Author

Posts By 3FC