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Food as medicine
Your diet could help you beat disease


October 2012

Kathy Bero stands in a field of kale, one of the top foods on the anti-angiogenic food list.

Kathy Bero of Oconomowoc was on a mission to live. Being diagnosed with three aggressive cancers simultaneously wasn’t going to stop her. She found her salvation in food, and has quietly started a movement in Pewaukee to aid in combating cancer.

Bero was diagnosed in October 2005 with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer, infiltrating ductal carcinoma and a high-grade tumor in her head. Her outlook was grim, but Bero was determined to face her disease head on.

Bero’s friend, Larry Mullen, was likewise determined and learned about a new chemotherapy called Avastein. The drug was being used for other cancers, but not for breast cancer. She convinced her doctor to include it in her chemo regimen and began undergoing four different chemotherapies simultaneously.

Avastein combats the harmful growth of new blood cells, a process called angiogenesis. Inflammation triggers angiogenesis, and in healthy bodies should only occur to heal wounds, during pregnancy or during a woman’s menstrual cycle. There are more than 70 diseases that depend on angiogenesis to thrive in our bodies: cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration and multiple sclerosis among them.

During his research Mullen discovered anti-angiogenic foods and how they were helping cancer patients. Bero picked up the book, "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" by David Servan-Schreiber. "Science was finding that people who have reoccurring cancer, may be able to get rid of the cancer cells, but the cancer stem cells remained," Bero says. Anti-angiogenic foods take away the blood source so the stem cells start dying, she explains. "The unhealthy growth of blood vessels gets blocked," she says.

Research in food as medicine is still limited and has so far concentrated mainly on the healthy effects of fruit and vegetables when it comes to studying angiogenesis. Meat, seafood and grains have not been apart of the studies at this point.

Dr. Gary Stoner, professor in the department of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has been working with berries in studying how compounds in fruit can help ward off disease. "The anti-angiogenic food stuffs is certainly one of the factors that inhibits the growth of tumor development by reducing the growth rate of premalignant and malignant cells," Stoner says.

There are four benefits of eating anti-angiogenic foods, according to Stoner:

• They can help reduce growth of premalignant cells.

• They can stimulate premalignant cells to die.

• They reduce inflammation.

• They can inhibit harmful angiogensis by preventing abnormal new blood vessel growth, which feeds on cancer cells.

In February 2008, Bero traded in all her medication for food. "For three years I only ate anti-angiogenic food. After five years (from her original diagnosis), my oncologist said, ‘You’re clean.’" Her doctors scratched their heads and couldn’t figure it out. She credits the food for keeping her in remission. "If you want to prevent this disease, your best defense is this food," Bero says. Some of the anti-angiogenic vegetables Bero ate included kale, red beets, carrots, nicola and purple potatoes. Fruit was also a main part of her diet, including a variety of berries — black raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and red tart cherries. For a more extensive list of anti-angiogenic foods visit the NuGenesis website.

"Food stuffs act in many different ways," Stoner says. For example, fruit and vegetables have cancer-preventing properties. The National Cancer Institute claims that eating four to six helpings of fruit and vegetables a day could reduce cancer from occurring by up to 30 percent, Stoner says. "We have identified more than 1,000 compounds that are cancer preventive," he says.

Bero isn’t encouraging cancer patients to abandon medical treatment, but supports incorporating these anti-angiogenic foods into a daily meal plan. "For me, it’s not just food or treatment, but a marriage between the two."

Stoner concurs with Bero and stresses that anti-angiogenic foods are not to be thought of as a replacement for cancer treatment because the food alone will not kill cancer cells.

As far as stopping cancer from recurring, Stoner says there is not enough data collected to offer proof. "Rigorous studies haven’t been done, but there is a lot of evidence in cases like Kathy’s where people have eaten these foods and are still alive," Stoner says.

Bero began her crusade to promote healthy eating first with her physicians and then with her friend, Ford Titus, who is the retired CEO of ProHealth Care. He believed in her cause and in 2010 got ProHealth Care and other major entities to aid in starting NuGenesis Farm in Pewaukee.

Dr. Chris Davies, a surgeon at Waukesha Surgical Specialists, joined the NuGenesis board. "I think it (NuGenesis) has a nice fit in the community to encourage healthy eating," Davies says. "All of these foods are a good adjunct to chemotherapy. A healthy diet, exercise and maintaining weight control does improve the outcome for some cancer patients," Davies says.

In order to know how to prepare, store and eat the food properly, NuGenesis Farm hosts cooking classes for people to learn how to maintain the highest nutritional value in their meals. For example, Bero explains you can’t replace the food with a supplement, because the processing removes part of the healing effects. Eating whole foods is the key, the more organic the better, but not completely necessary. "These foods have many substances that are cancer-preventive, but if you prepare them wrong, you lose some of the good protective compounds in the food. That is why it’s good to learn how to prepare it," says Stoner, who is also on the NuGenesis board. Fresh and raw is the best; using heat to cook the food can destroy the activity needed to combat disease. "Most fruits and vegetables are best raw in order to maintain the most effective compounds," he says.

"Studies are now showing a synergy between certain foods and cancer treatment," Bero says. For example, cumin with pepper can help produce better results for patients in radiation. "We’re going to show that as a community we can prevent disease, improve the outcome of diseases and prevent recurrence by supporting good quality food and its availability," Bero says. "It’s true health care reform. We reduce health care costs, there are fewer sick people and we support local farms sending more money back into the economy," she says. "You provide a true sustainable community.

"What we’re hoping to push for is learning enough about food working with cancer treatment, so that maybe one day we can decrease the amount of toxic treatment," she says.

To learn more about the effects of an anti-angiogenic diet, NuGenesis has entered its second year of a collaborative study with the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Waukesha to look at how changes in diet and behavior affect overall health.

Davies is glad to see more research is taking place on the subject. "I would like to see food science research become more prevalent so physicians can get a better idea of how food could help people regarding certain diseases," Davies says.

For a list of anti-angiogenic foods, go to the NuGenesis website at


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: