Diet and Nutrition

Anticancer Compounds Found in Food

January 11, 2017   /
Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS

Rationale: Found in both bacterial and fungal cell walls, beta-glucans are implicated in the initiation of antimicrobial immune response. Per Chan et al, “Based on in vitro studies, beta-glucans act on several immune receptors including Dectin-1, complement receptor (CR3) and TLR-2/6 and trigger a group of immune cells including macrophages, neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells and dendritic cells.”* These reactions can potentially exert anti-tumor effects.

  • Source: Chan GC, Chan WK, Sze DM. The effects of beta-glucan on human immune and cancer cells. J Hematol Oncol. 2009;2:25. doi:10.1186/1756-8722-2-25.

Sources of beta-glucans include:

  • Barley
  • Mushrooms
  • Oats
  • Yeast

Early stages of study on:

  • Isolated cancer cells/tumors

Studies/articles referenced:

Rationale: Per Donaldson, “Beneficial bacteria produce natural antibiotics to keep pathogenic bugs in check (preventing diarrhea and infections) and produce some B vitamins in the small intestine where they can be utilized.”* Beneficial bacteria help with food digestion and promote gut health.

  • Source: Donaldson MS. Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutr J . 2004;3:19. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-19.

According to Wollowski et al, “Ingestion of viable probiotics or prebiotics is associated with anticarcinogenic effects, one mechanism of which is the detoxification of genotoxins in the gut.”*

Per Kumar et al, “Probiotics may suppress the growth of bacteria that convert procarcinogens into carcinogens, thereby reducing the amount of carcinogens in the intestine.”*

  • Source: Kumar M, Kumar A, Nagpal R, et al. Cancer-preventing attributes of probiotics: an update. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2010;61(5):473-496. doi:10.3109/09637480903455971.    

Sources of prebiotics/probiotics include supplements and fermented products, such as:

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Pickled products
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

Although research is still in the early stages, studies have shown potentials effects on the following cancers:

  • Bladder
  • Colon

Studies/articles referenced:


Despite promising research, it is important to note that doses of specific compounds found in foods that can prevent cancer are not known at this time. Experts recommend consuming these compounds through food sources when possible. Research on supplements is not adequate to recommend supplements for cancer prevention.


References and recommended readings
ACS guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society ® Web site. Updated January 11, 2012. Accessed February 16, 2014.

Anand P, Sundaram C, Jhurani S, Kunnmakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin and cancer: an “old-age” disease with an “old-age” solution. Cancer Letters . 2008;267:133-164. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2008.03.025.

Bergman Jungeström MB, Thompson LU, Dabrosin C. Flaxseed and its lignans inhibit estradiol-induced growth, angiogenesis, and secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor in human breast cancer xenografts in vivo. Clin Cancer Res. 2007;13(3):1061-1067. Accessed February 15, 2014.

Chan GC, Chan WK, Sze DM. The effects of beta-glucan on human immune and cancer cells. J Hematol Oncol. 2009;2:25. doi:10.1186/1756-8722-2-25.

Crowell PL. Prevention and therapy of cancer by dietary monoterpenes. J Nutr. 1999;129(3):7775S-7778S.;jsessionid=JSx1spJgjniBgMkQYC1q.2. Accessed February 15, 2014.