Good news – magnesium protects against cancer.

The levels of vitamin D, magnesium and calcium were measured to assess whether they might have to do with protection from cancer. The level of vitamin D and magnesium was significantly associated with protection from cancer while calcium level was not. The mechanism of action is not included. (1)

The mechanism of action is likely to involve the control of apoptosis by the active hormone form of vitamin D, calcitriol, (3), and the role of magnesium in providing the energy for apoptosis. (2) White blood cells during times of normal function can identify damaged, old, pre-cancerous, cancerous, or infected or foreign cells and give an enzymatic blast of chemicals that kills the cell and engulfs it completely, before the killed cell can break down and spill its cellular contents into the surrounding area.

An influx of cell contents into the surrounding area would be toxic and potentially lead to more cells being damaged. The enzymatic blast of chemicals of apoptosis requires magnesium, (2), and signaling white blood cells to be in the mode of autophagy requires calcitriol. (3)

“In the context of cancer, calcitriol regulates the cell cycle, induces apoptosis, promotes cell differentiation and acts as anti-inflammatory factor within the tumor microenvironment.”

(Díaz-Muñoz et al., 2015) (3)

“In addition, the impact of Mg2+ on apoptosis initiation and execution in various cells has to be investigated in more detail.”

( Pilchova et al., 2017) (2)

Excessive amounts of vitamin D can be toxic and can be stored in fat tissue. Magnesium levels in the blood represent only one percent of the body’s total amount of magnesium which makes a blood test to check for deficiency not very helpful or accurate except in very severe deficiency – ideally we don’t want to reach severe deficiency. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include pain, anxiety, and muscle cramps.

To have adequate supplies of magnesium or vitamin D it is also important to have enough protein food in the diet as both nutrients are stored on transport protein or also ATP molecules in the case of magnesium. The transport protein or ATP molecule holds the vitamin D or magnesium in an inactive form. The body carefully controls how much active hormone D or electrically active ionic magnesium there is available within the cell fluid or in the blood stream.

  • More information about sources of magnesium in the diet or from topical sources (it can be absorbed by the skin through hair follicle pores), is available in this post: To have optimal Magnesium needs Protein and Phospholipids too.
  • More information about symptoms of magnesium deficiency and chronic conditions that may involve low levels of magnesium within cell fluid is available here: Magnesium – essential for eighty percent of our body’s chemistry..
  • More information about how many grams of protein might be needed for health is available in a post about kidney health – adequate water is protective and excessive amounts of protein eaten regularly may be harmful to kidney health over many years (i.e. three ounces of meat in a meal is a healthy amount, while regularly eating an 8-12 ounce steak may eventually be harmful for kidney health): Make every day Kidney Appreciation Day.
  • Vitamin D3 form may be a more bioactive form of the vitamin if taking a supplement than the vitamin D2 form. During spring through autumn months getting 15-30 minutes of midday sunshine with face and arms exposed to the sun can provide enough vitamin D from it being formed in the skin from cholesterol. Vitamin D is actually a seco-steroid and excessive levels of the hormone form can cause mood changes including anger or irritability.
  • It is available in fortified milk & milk substitutes, and in fortified yogurt or cheese, but not necessarily all yogurt or cheese, read the nutrient label. Cod liver oil and some types of fish can provide vitamin D. Egg yolk has a small amount and some types of mushrooms may have a small amount. (healthline.com)
  • The standard RDA amount taken daily (~ 600 IU depending on age and gender) may help the immune system protect against respiratory infection, while taking a mega-dose after an infection occurred did not seem to help with recovery from a respiratory infection. (Vit D Respiratory Infections/bmj.com)

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of Fair Use. It is not intended to provide individual guidance. Please seek a health care provider for individualized health care guidance.

Reference List

  1. Wesselink E, Kok DE, Bours MJL, et al. Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and their interaction in relation to colorectal cancer recurrence and all-cause mortality [published online ahead of print, 2020 Mar 19]. Am J Clin Nutr. 2020;nqaa049. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqaa049 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32190892/?from_term=nutrition&from_filter=ds1.y_1&from_sort=date&from_size=50&from_pos=6
  2. Ivana Pilchova, Katarina Klacanova, Zuzana Tatarkova, et al., The Involvement of Mg2+ in Regulation of Cellular and Mitochondrial Functions. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, Special Issue, Magnesium and Other Biometals in Oxidative Medicine and Redox Biology Vol 2017, 6797460, 8 pages, https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/6797460 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2017/6797460/
  3. Díaz L, Díaz-Muñoz M, García-Gaytán AC, Méndez I. Mechanistic Effects of Calcitriol in Cancer Biology. Nutrients. 2015;7(6):5020–5050. Published 2015 Jun 19. doi:10.3390/nu7065020 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488829/

Fennel Seed Diet

New/extra short term goal- regain health, reduce inflammation and lose weight by adding fennel seeds back to my daily diet. I ran out of them earlier this summer and since then hurt my knee and gained weight with the decreased activity, (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate (RICE) can help sprained ankles and strained ligaments but 6-8 weeks is expected for recovery).

Fennel seeds are used as an after meal dessert or breath freshener in India and elsewhere. They also are a digestive aid and may help preserve bone density/prevent osteoporosis from reading I did on the topic last winter when I first added them to my daily diet. It turns out they also are thought to help weight loss based on search results-(fennel seed weight loss). I love the internet. More specific information includes potential help with anxiety & depression and also mentions the possible help as digestive aid and weight loss as an appetite suppressant : “21 Health Benefits of Fennel, and Risks & Side Effects,”  selfhacked.com. Excessive amounts daily are not recommended however the crunch and taste are lasting and a pinch, ~ 1/2 teaspoon, is a little like chewing minty gum for little while.

So my simple plan – try to eat my healthy meal choices and have a teaspoon of fennel seeds after meals and whenever I feel like snacking in between meals – and just see if that helps curb the desire for more snacking. /Day one, already feeling some positive effects./

Fennel seed are an alkalizing food – meaning after digestion the body system is more alkaline than acidic which promotes health more and may help reduce cancer risk: Alkalizing foods refers to the alkalinity after digestion.

From my wintertime notes: 

A gift from nature to help us build Nrf2 (10) and which may improve digestion  (11) and bone density (12) are the licorice flavored Fennel Seeds that might be served in a tiny dish as an appetizer or after a meal at an Indian food restaurant. The tiny crunchy seeds can be eaten directly raw or may be toasted.  A few pinches, a teaspoon or two are a reasonable digestive health aid and even seem to freshen the breath somewhat as there is also a slight minty flavor to the more predominant licorice flavor. They are sold in larger quantities, (400 gram package), in India food markets but may be found in a one ounce jar in the spice section as they are also added to soups in Western recipes.

One interaction caution is for women using estrogen based birth control pills. Fennel also contains estrogen like phytonutrients which may interfere with the use of the birth control pills as a pregnancy preventative. (11) Regarding quantity for health benefits – a study on bone density effects in post menopausal women did not find 300 mg per day effective (12) – that would be less than an 1/8th of a teaspoon. I have seen a portion described as “a handful” in an unlinked source, which is about 1/4 – 1/2 cup, and which would be a lot compared to what I eat in a day but an 1/8th teaspoon wouldn’t be much at all. I eat a pinch or two, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon at a time several times per day. So a tablespoon (three teaspoons) to an 1/8th cup (two tablespoons or 6 teaspoons) might be consumed throughout the day when snacking from an open dish as seen in the image below. They do seem to help settle my stomach after a meal.

Not as conducive to weight loss, but delicious – putting ground fennel powder in cookies – they were incredible: Fennel Cookies-lightly licorice.

Fennel seeds, raw.

Looking to any food to resolve weight gain issues may be too simple if the problem is actually too much exposure to EMF, electromagnetic frequencies, in your environment from laptops, smartphones and other WiFi devices, and/or problems with poor sleep or oxygen intake; discussion by a neuroscientist who got curious about his own health: Tensegrity 5: Your Magnetic Sense, Dr Jack Kruse, jackkruse.com.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

For those who can’t grow pomegranates, consider sumac instead

Sumac is a shrub like tree or a tree like shrub that is an invasive plant in many areas. Types that have white berry clusters should be avoided as the white berries are poisonous but the types with clusters of red berry like seeds are safe to consume when made into a tea and they may be dried and ground into a spice. Native Americans use them in a lemonade like beverage and they are ground into a spice which is used in many Middle Eastern dishes and as a table condiment to sprinkle on foods to individual taste. The ground Sumac is mixed with salt or available plain in shaker bottles and is mixed with a few other spices in the blend called za’atar (sesame seed, salt, and thyme or hyssop).

Some of the phytonutrient content and medicinal properties  of edible sumac are similar to those found in pomegranate and may be associated with the bright red pigmentation. The botanical name for Sumac , ‘Rhus,’ translated as a foreign word means ‘red.’ Some people may be allergic skin reactions from touching the plant in nature (1) and as a more concentrated tea it has diuretic properties, which can have health benefits to help remove toxins if plenty of additional water is also consumed to prevent dehydration. (2)

Sumac is used medicinally in Arab countries. Studies on sumac extracts to date have indicated that the plant may be a source of bioproducts with the following bioactivities: antifibrogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, antiviral, cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic (Rayne and Mazza, 2007).” (1)

The lemonade like flavor would be from the terpene limonene and possibly other terpenes found in the plant. Anthocyanins likely give it some of the bright color. It also contains tannins primarily in the form of gallotannins, which are similar to the elligatannins/ellagic acid found in pomegranate, (3), and other aldehydes and beneficial acids that give it tartness including vitamin C – ascorbic acid. (1) Eating a large enough amount on a regular basis may be important for the health benefits from phytonutrients. Research with elligatannins has found them helpful for cancer prevention and somewhat for treatment (4) but a recent study that used a small dose, 900 mg of pomegranate extract per day, found some changes in important genes but not conclusive health benefits. (5) Research on tumor inhibiting properties of sumac found it beneficial during early stages when the tumor is developing rather than as a treatment after it was formed (animal study). (6) Animal based trials in more recent research that found benefits using pomegranate extract used doses that would be equivalent to larger doses, 1 to 10 grams/kilogram body weight per day. The study and amounts used are discussed in this post and the link is in this earlier post. A beneficial substance that we have to make for ourselves, Nrf2 may be involved. Tannins, anthocyanins, and aldehydes were all mentioned as being helpful for helping promote our own body’s ability to produce more Nrf2. The gallic acid (related chemically to the gallotannins, the mango fruit is also a source (8)) is mentioned to help induce apoptosis in cancer cells (cell death) in an article discussing the role of oxidative stress in cancer treatment. (7)

“Gallic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, GA), a polyhydroxy phenolic compound, is abundant in natural plants such as gallnut, grapes, sumac, oak bark, green tea apple peels, grapes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, lemons, and in red and white wine. Its antioxidative DNA-damage action has been well documented []. However, gallic acid induces apoptosis in several cancer cell lines by increasing ROS level and GSH depletion [].” (7)

That excerpt is from a section titled: 5.1. Anticancer ROS-Generating Compounds from Natural Origin(7), which also contains information on other phytonutrients and foods that contain them that have been found beneficial for preventing or treating cancer or reducing oxidative stress.

I bought some dried sumac prepared for table use but chose a brand without salt added to it so I could use as much as I want without having to be concerned about adding too much salt. The aroma and flavor are good and the color is very pretty, slightly more purplish than paprika but similar in the bright addition it makes when sprinkled on the surface of a food. It was $3.99 for a 9.33 ounce bottle at a Middle Eastern foods grocery store.

Phytonutrients with bright colors often seem to be associated with health benefits but that doesn’t mean all wild berries or plants are edible. Read guides and know what you’re harvesting before eating it – and avoid private property and nature preserves where it might be illegal to pick anything.

They are so common in some areas that I happen to have picture taken on a recent walk. A discussion with more detail and a close up image taken during late summer is available here: The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, EdibleEastEnd.com. (2)

Wild sumac seed pod in wintertime.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Sumac – an overview, ScienceDirect Topics, sciencedirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/sumac
  2. Ronald Halweil, The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, Edible East End, August 9, 2012, EdibleEastEnd.com,   https://www.edibleeastend.com/2012/08/09/harvest-sumac/
  3. J. P. PerchelletH. U. GaliE. M. PerchelletP. E. LaksV. BottariR. W. Hemingway, and A. ScalbertAntitumor-Promoting Effects of Gallotannins, Ellagitannins, and Flavonoids in Mouse Skin In Vivo
    Food Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention, Chapter 25, pp 303–327
    Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 546, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025
  4. Tariq Ismail, Cinzia Calcabrini, Anna Rita Diaz, Carmela Fimognari, Eleonora Turrini, Elena Catanzaro, Saeed Akhtar, and Piero Sestili,

    Ellagitannins in Cancer Chemoprevention and Therapy. Toxins (Basel). 2016 May; 8(5): 151. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885066/

  5. Nuñez-Sánchez MA, González-Sarrías A, García-Villalba R, et al, Gene expression changes in colon tissues from colorectal cancer patients following the intake of an ellagitannin-containing pomegranate extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Apr;42:126-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 27.    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28183047
  6. Perchellet, J.P., Gali, H.U.Perchellet, E.M.Laks, P.E.et al., Antitumor-promoting effects of gallotannins, ellagitannins, and flavonoids in mouse skin in vivo  [1994], ACS symposium series, ISSN : 0097-6156, Source: Information Systems Division, National Agricultural Library, http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US9602151

  7. Giuseppina Barrera, Oxidative Stress and Lipid Peroxidation Products in Cancer Progression and Therapy., ISRN Oncol. 2012; 2012: 137289.  
       https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483701/
  8. Gallotannins, Science Direct, ScienceDirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/gallotannins