Dietary Support for Ovarian Cancer

by Susan M. Lark M.D.
Filed Under: Women's Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

When it comes to ovarian cancer prevention, there are definitely categories of foods that you should avoid, namely caffeine, dairy products, and red meat. In the case of caffeine, several studies have shown a connection between regular caffeine intake and cancers of the reproductive system. For example, in one study from the September 2000 issue of the International Journal of Cancer, researchers compared the coffee intake of 549 women who had been newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer with that of 516 women without the disease. They found that the consumption of coffee, and caffeine in general, was linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women in early menopause or premenopause.

Similarly, dairy products and red meat can also increase your risk for ovarian cancer. According to a 2003 study, also from the International Journal of Cancer, women who consumed more dairy products and red and white meat were at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Most likely, it is the saturated fats found in these two food groups that put women at high risk for the disease, as they elevate estrogen levels. And, as I wrote about earlier, elevated estrogen levels can lead to or contribute to one of the biggest risk factors for ovarian cancer—estrogen dominance.

In addition to avoiding certain foods, there are others you should strive to eat more often. These include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.). In a study from the International Journal of Cancer, researchers looked at the frequency with which 609 ovarian cancer survivors in three Australian states ate certain foods and took certain supplements. They found a "survival advantage" in those women who consumed more vegetables in general, especially cruciferous vegetables. They also observed a significant advantage among those women in the upper third of vitamin E intake.

A second study found that vitamin E is not alone in its cancer-fighting benefits. In a 2001 study from Nutrition of Cancer, researchers asked 168 women with ovarian cancer and more than 200 cancer-free women to record their intake of specific foods and supplements. They found that women who took in more than 363 mg of vitamin C a day had a 40 percent lower risk for developing ovarian cancer, while women whose daily intake of vitamin E exceeded 75 mg had a 33 percent decreased risk for the disease.

A 2002 study from the same journal confirmed this conclusion. Researchers found that supplementing with vitamins C and E did indeed appear to significantly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer by about 50 percent.

The bottom line? To help avoid ovarian cancer, avoid caffeine, red meat, and dairy products. You can also increase your consumption of foods high in vitamins C and E, as well as cruciferous vegetables. These include: wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds and almond butter, and flaxseed and flaxseed oil (all high in vitamin E). For those high in vitamin C, aim for any fruit, tomatoes, red bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, celery, and avocado. Finally, your cruciferous veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choy, watercress, radish, and mustard seed.

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