VEGF is a major contributor to cancer growth: What you need to know about this growth mechanism

Cancer remains as one of the least understood diseases in the world, making it extremely difficult to prevent and treat. Over the years, the number of patients suffering from this condition continues to soar. According to the American Cancer Society, the number of newly diagnosed cancer cases for 2018 is expected to reach 1,735,350. Although cancer remains to be an enigma, researchers are slowly working towards unraveling the different processes involved in cancer. One of the processes that have been identified involves the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

VEGF is not inherently bad. In fact, it is necessary for the development of infants inside the womb as well as their growth once they been born. VEGF signals the formation of tissues and blood vessels. As a person ages, the amount of this chemical in the body is significantly reduced since there is limited need for it. VEGF can turn bad real quick if it continues to be produced at high levels. Diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, malaria, and cancer have been associated with elevated levels of this signaling protein.

Angiogenesis is a process that occurs in cancer cells which involves VEGF signaling. It is crucial for the growth of small tumors called neoplasms into larger tumors that can move to other parts of the body. Moreover, VEGF is also needed by harmless tumors so that they can get the blood that they need to evolve into cancerous tumors. As a tumor grows and branches out to other parts of the body, it continues to produce its own supply of this signaling protein in order to maintain itself.

There are existing conventional cancer treatments that work by inhibiting VEGF. However, these chemotherapy agents are associated with side effects such as hypertension, increased gastrointestinal permeability, hemorrhage, and endocrine dysfunction. Fortunately, there are many natural substances that can inhibit VEGF and consequently prevent angiogenesis.

Majority of the natural VEGF inhibitors are well-known for their potent antioxidant and immune boosting activities. Some examples of foods that prevent angiogenesis include the following:

  • Red grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Celery
  • Green Tea
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Tomato
  • Turmeric
  • Thyme

Effects of stress on VEGF

People who are more stressed also have significantly higher VEGF levels. This is because high concentrations of the stress hormone norepinephrine stimulate the tumor cells to produce VEGF. From this, the importance of stress relief in cancer prevention can be determined. Different ways to alleviate stress include the following:

  • Exercising – Participating in physical activities regulates the production of stress hormones in preference for mood-boosting chemicals like endorphins. Although any form of exercise can reduce stress, the most effective ones are those that involve repetitive movements like walking or jogging.
  • Practicing aromatherapy – Essential oils or scented candles can help induce a sense of calmness that is also beneficial for people with anxiety. The most recommended scents for stress relief include lavender, rose, bergamot, frankincense, sandalwood, chamomile, ylang-ylang, orange, and geranium.
  • Deep breathing and meditation – When the body is stressed, it triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response. Practicing deep breathing and meditation can effectively counter this by activating a relaxation response.
  • Spending time with other people – A good support group is important for a person going through stressful times since they can lighten the load by providing love, support, and acceptance.

Knowing the mechanisms involved in cancer development, such as VEGF-induced angiogenesis can have significant contributions to its prevention and treatment. By simply eating anti-angiogenetic food and managing stress, cancer risk can be reduced. (Related: Study shows link between diet and stress induced cancer.)

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