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Probiotic Foods and Cancer


In 2010, I had just started my blog and Facebook page, and the second person to post on my page was a man named Chris asking me How to Make Kombucha. He was a friend of my older kids and what I didn’t know at the time was Chris had just been diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was young and had a new family and needed help. Fast forward many years later and Chris is seven years cancer free. He undertook chemotherapy but also added tons of cultured foods to his diet, and now is my web manager and person most responsible for the way my site looks, runs, and a million other things. Years later, I discovered just how important it was that Chris added cultured probiotic foods to his diet.

Gut Microbes Repair the Gut After Chemo

Along with cancer often comes the use of chemotherapy, which brings with it a host of other problems. There has been some research done on the connection between the gut and chemo. In one clinical study, researchers gave a group of mice an injection of chemotherapy that would, pound for pound, kill most adult human beings. Why? According to Jian-Guo Geng, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, “All tumors from different tissues and organs can be killed by high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, but the current challenge for treating the later-staged metastasized cancer is that you actually kill the [patient] before you kill the tumor.” So the goal was to test a recently discovered biological mechanism that focuses on preserving the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract—a mechanism that helped mice live through this lethal dose of chemotherapy.

The mice were injected with a substance called Rspo1, or R-spondon1, which activates stem cell production within the gut. These stem cells then rebuild damaged tissue faster than chemo can destroy it. Of the mice that were given R-spondon1, 50 to 75 percent survived the potentially fatal chemotherapy dose. All the mice that did not receive R-spondon1 died.1 Here is the exciting part: Your body already has a way to make R-spondon1 on its own. Inside the human gut, a layer of epithelial cells is regenerated every four to five days, as long as you have the right gut flora. If you have healthy gut flora and include a group of healthy strains of bacteria, your body will regenerate itself. If it is not healthy, then it slows or halts the regeneration of your intestinal cells. The probiotics in your gut can determine how, and if, your body survives chemotherapy—making it even more crucial for those with cancer and going through chemo to add probiotics and prebiotics to their diet.

Cultured Kraut and Breast Cancer Prevention

In 2005, a team of researchers in Poland and the United States studied two groups of young Polish women: one that had immigrated to the United States, and one that had not. They found that the rate of breast cancer was three times higher for those in the U.S. than for those still living in Poland. Further studies concluded that the consumption of cultured sauerkraut was a possible factor in the differing rates of cancer. Women in Poland ate an average of 30 pounds of cultured sauerkraut each year, while the women in the U.S. ate less than 10 pounds per year.2 Why does this matter? Sauerkraut contains high levels of glucosinolates, which have been shown to have anticancer activity in laboratory research.

Other studies have focused on estrogen metabolism and the enzymes in sauerkraut and its juices. A 2012 study conducted by biochemist Hanna Szaefer and her colleagues looked at the ability of the enzymes in cabbage and sauerkraut to change the expression of the P450 enzyme, which metabolizes estrogen but is also carcinogenic. Their research supported the idea that the consumption of sauerkraut was a beneficial food for the prevention of breast cancer in women.3

Cultured Kefir and Cancer

There have been a few studies recently that have directly linked the consumption of kefir to improvement in cancer cases. In 2011, one study showed that kefir reduced the damage to the DNA in colorectal cancers and colon cancer.4 Another study showed that cancer cells in the stomach started to mutate and self-destruct with the addition of kefir to the diet.5 And in another, researchers gave kefir to mice daily and found that it was very effective in regulating the immune system and stopping breast cancer growth.6

Cancer and chemotherapy are complex and affect people in different ways. I am certainly not saying that cultured foods are a cure-all, but rather encouraging you to change what you eat and include probiotic and whole, real foods into your diet. It can make all the difference and it’s just food, food that can heal and make you well with the help of microbes. Let me show you how.



  1. L.G. van der Flier and H. Clevers, “Stem Cells, Self Renewal, and Differentiation in the Intestinal Epithelium,” Annual Review of Physiology 71, (2009): 241-60: abstract at science.naturalnews.com/2009/2043215_Stem_cells_self_renewal_and_differentiation_in_the_intestinal_epithelium.html; L. Bailey, “Gut Reaction: Mice Survive Lethal Doses of Chemotherapy,” Michigan News (July 31, 2013): ns.umich.edu/new/releases/21613-digest-this-cure-for-cancer-may-live-in-our-intestines.
  2. D. Patton, “Sauerkraut Consumption May Fight Off Breast Cancer,” NUTRAIngredients (November 4, 2005): www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Sauerkraut-consumption-may-fight-off-breast-cancer.
  3. H. Szaefer et al., “Modulation of CYP1A1, CYP1A2 and CYP1B1 Expression by Cabbage Juices and Indoles in Human Breast Cell Lines,” Nutrition and Cancer 64, no. 6 (August 2012): 879–88: abstract at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22716309.
  4. A. Grishina et al., “Antigenotoxic Effect of Kefir and Ayran Supernatants on Fecal Water-Induced DNA Damage in Human Colon Cells,” Nutrition and Cancer 63, no. 1 (2011): 73–9: abstract at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21161824
  5. J. Gao et al., “Induction of Apoptosis of Gastric Cancer Cells SGC7901 In Vitro by a Cell-Free Fraction of Tibetan Kefir,” International Dairy Journal 30, no. 1 (May 2013): 14–18: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0958694612002658
  6. A. de Moreno de Leblanc et al., “Study of Immune Cells Involved in the Antitumor Effect of Kefir in a Murine Breast Cancer Model,” Journal of Dairy Science 90, no. 4 (April 2007):1920–8: www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302%2807%2971678-8/fulltext.
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